The Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce is preparing a survey for its members in an effort to try to learn what the business community liked and disliked about two school district referenda voters rejected in the November 2014 election. Voters were asked two questions on the ballot: should $130 in bonds be issued for facilities improvements, and should a 1-cent sales tax be put in place in Kershaw County to aid in paying back the bonds? Both measures failed.
Chamber President Amy Kinard gave draft copies of the survey for review to the chamber’s executive board during its February meeting Thursday. She asked the board it and suggest changes or clarifications for the survey questions.
“We want to collect data from our members regarding the referendum, the capital projects and the 1-percent sales use tax,” Kinard said. “The survey has been reviewed by a number of people, by the school district administrative staff, the director of communications there, the school board and by our executive committee, as well.”
Kinard said the purpose of the survey is not to steer chamber members or the public in any particular direction, but rather to see if business people may have liked some aspects of the plan but disliked others. She said the survey would be sent to Chamber members via email this week, as it is the easiest and most convenient way to get the results back.
“If we don’t get a very good response to the survey, we will probably start calling some members to get feedback. I feel strongly that this is an issue that this community needs to have our voice heard on,” Kinard said. “This is not something the school district asked us to do. This is something I felt strongly about. We need to know what the business community thinks about this because the school district is going to come back to us when they decide to do a new referendum and ask if the business community will support what they’re doing.”
Kinard also updated the board on two bills being introduced in the South Carolina House which would affect the business license fees local governments can charge.
“One is House Bill 3337 and the other is House Bill 3490. House Bill 3490 is the more aggressive of the two. Basically it would cap business license fees at $100,” Kinard said. “The issue has been discussed over the past eight years and more than 23 bills have been introduced during that time, but at this time there seems to be a larger push from the business community to restructure the business license system.”
While it may look attractive to business owners to have lowered licensing fees, most communities rely on the fees to help finance their operations and services.
“The current bill, as we understand it, should it pass, would take more than 18 percent of the city of Camden’s annual operating budget. This could then turn into a negative, ripple effect on the business community as well as concern for the city,” Kinard said. “So, we have requested additional data from the city so we may more thoroughly discuss the issue and find out the potential impact on businesses.”
Chamber Executive Director Liz Horton reported several staff members and board members will host the Youth Employability Skills (YES) Conference on Friday at the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC). The event will show students the proper way to dress and conduct themselves in job interviews. The students will break into small groups and participate in mock interviews to develop the skills and techniques to increase the chances of getting hired.
Horton also encouraged chamber members to go to a U.S. Army Community Listening Session coming up at 3 p.m. on Thursday at Shandon Baptist Church, 5250 Forest Drive in Columbia, to discuss proposed cutbacks at nearby Fort Jackson.
“We are trying to pack the pews for this event. There are 2,200 seats we need to fill. All the chambers in the Midlands are trying to get folks to attend,” Horton said. “Here’s what’s at stake: Fort Jackson is threatened with losing half of their workforce. If that happens, they won’t be able to complete their training mission that they currently have. It would be an immediate (negative) economic impact of $189 million on the Midlands area. There would be business closures, job losses, so we want to show that we are the most military-friendly community in America.”
The chamber’s calendar of events for the coming weeks includes a “State of the County” breakfast at 8 a.m. Friday, March 13. Guest speakers will be Kershaw County Councilman Julian Burns and County Administrator Vic Carpenter.
The chamber’s annual Kershaw County Legislative Breakfast will be the following Friday, March 20, with registration at 7:30 a.m. followed by breakfast and the program at 8:30 a.m. The State of the County breakfast and the legislative breakfast will both be held at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse.
The chamber’s annual Gala and Reception is set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 15. This year’s celebration will have a Mardi Gras theme.