The Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors voted unanimously to adopt the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s (SCCC) 2014 Competitiveness Agenda at its November 12 meeting.
SCCC President Otis Rawl attended the meeting and told the board there will be an estimated $300 million set aside for roads and bridges this upcoming year. However, Rawl said that due to 2014 being an election year, there will be a focus on general fund dollars versus an increase in fuel tax. According to the SCCC, it would mark the first “significant” increase since 1987. Investing in infrastructure is a critical part of government responsibility because it drives economics and job creation, Rawl said.
Education and workforce has always been a vested interest for the state chamber, Rawl said. He said South Carolina needs a well-qualified workforce to meet the needs of business relocating to this state.
“We have about two-three years to get this right,” Rawl said, before talking about upcoming needs when an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.
Rawl said the SCCC will concentrate on four areas in 2014: technical colleges; Quick Jobs programs that would train people throughout a 60-90 day period; higher education; and reading programs for students in kindergarten to fourth grade.
“You learn to read up until the fourth-grade and after that you read to learn,” he said.
Thirty-eight percent of third and fourth-graders cannot read on grade level, Rawl said. The state set aside $26 million for the programs last year and Rawl is expecting the state will need $20 million to $30 million this year to continue building the program. Quick Jobs, he said, will be provided by the technical colleges. State funding for higher education is at about 8 percent currently, Rawl said; it used to be as high as 40 percent.
Another issue facing South Carolina is how it disposes of commercial waste. An ordinance passed several years ago by Horry County Council asked all businesses to take trash out of the county landfill. The ordinance hasn’t been mandated yet, however, Rawl said, but businesses want “free enterprise” to be able to determine whether they want to take their trash to a public or private facility to create competition.
There are also energy issues. The state chamber supports developing equitable solutions to renewable energy initiatives and ensuring that business aren’t entertaining “frivolous” law suits under the Pollution Control Act. The SCCC also wants to make sure Congress stays concerned about the Port of Charleston as a part of its federal concerns. The state chamber doesn’t usually get involved in federal issues, but is this year due to concerns about new Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Labor Relation Board regulations, Rawl said. It is also concerned about Environmental Protection Agency regulations that have pushed businesses to spend millions in order to meet compliance for water and air issues, he said.
Also, Rawl said that costs associated with healthcare remain one of business owners’ highest costs after payroll. The SCCC is gathering information to find a Medicaid package that will work in South Carolina, according to its agenda.
Finally, the SCCC will continue to support economic development in South Carolina. In 2013, Forbes ranked South Carolina as 28th in terms of labor supply, regulatory environment, current economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia all ranked in the Top 10. Tax reform, workforce development and entrepreneurship are issues that must be addressed to expand economic development in South Carolina, the SCCC said.
Overall, though, Rawl said South Carolina is “on the cusp of greatness.”