New state committee will examine how SC can prosper economically in coming years

Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 8:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - So far this year, new companies have brought more than 3,000 jobs and around $1.4 billion in capital investment to South Carolina.

That’s according to state leaders, who say South Carolina needs to prepare now to keep this economic momentum not just for years to come but for decades.

Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, recently formed the state’s Economic Development and Utility Modernization Ad Hoc Committee, a bipartisan, 12-member House panel.

Its members hail from across the state, in both its rural and urban areas.

“We’ve had unprecedented revenue over these last few years, but we’re going to need to be positioned and prepared to attract transformative industries here in South Carolina,” Smith told committee members at their first meeting in late September.

Smith laid out four areas of focus for the group, aimed at accomplishing that goal from a legislative perspective.

The first is infrastructure, where the state has recently allocated billions of dollars toward improving its roads, port, water and sewer, and broadband.

But some of the state’s economic and industry leaders testified what South Carolina needs most is more shovel-ready sites.

“Those spaces are being filled faster than they can be built,” State Secretary of Commerce Harry Lightsey said. “Companies are looking to make moves and get into production and get into the market as quickly as they possibly can.”

One committee member cautioned they will have to be careful this potential development of shovel-ready mega-sites doesn’t come at the expense of another crucial piece of the state’s economy.

“That is absolutely turning a community from something it has historically been into something completely different. We are losing agricultural production land at an unprecedented rate right now because of urban sprawl. Is that progress? I don’t know,” Rep. Russell Ott, D – Calhoun, said, adding if the state is providing companies more incentives to move to South Carolina, he would want to be sure jobs are going to their constituents instead of creating a situation in which people from other states are brought in to fill those jobs.

The committee’s focuses also include expanding access to cheap and reliable power, with Smith noting South Carolina has some of the highest rates for residential, commercial, and industrial electric in the southeast.

The third area is looking at more ways to create a low-tax and business-friendly environment.

“We are a low-tax state,” Smith said. “But guess what, so are our neighbors.”

The final area is ensuring the state has the workforce necessary to fill new jobs if companies come to South Carolina.

Data shows that while South Carolina’s unemployment rate sat at just 3.1% in August, more than 111,000 jobs were unfilled in early September.

“If we have jobs that are unmet and cannot be filled, it’s going to trickle down to us and the way we bring employers here to this state in the future,” Smith said.

The committee will hold its next meeting on Wednesday in the Blatt building on State House grounds, with discussions on energy policy and utility modernization for economic growth on the agenda.

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