In the last few weeks I have listened to so many crepe hangers telling me the world is falling apart (or is it the sky that’s falling?) I want to talk about the good news, at least in our state.
On one side of the equation, our state leaders rightly point out our critical need for better education and better economic opportunity. For all the apparent common sense of being a "Right to Work" state, we remain among the poorest states, statistically ninth from the bottom in wages and earned income, with 27% of children living below the poverty line. In contrast, the most advanced economies in the world, such as Germany and Sweden, enjoy strong trade unions and use taxes to create outstanding medical and educational systems. In light of these economic challenges and the widespread face of poverty, for me or anyone else to trumpet the ongoing economic gains in South Carolina might seem either misleading or delusional, or at the very least insensitive.
There’s a larger and more important truth: We are inescapably becoming more prosperous. We are attracting international corporations. Our work force is better and better prepared. The South has become one of the more attractive destinations for work and play on the planet. Yes, to be sure, 150 years later, we are still binding up the wounds of a tragic civil war and an oligarchic social system moored in apartheid, but so are most areas of the world. At the end of that war only 3% of African Americans and 5% of whites here were literate. At the turn of the last century, only 3% of Americans had graduated from high school. Tenant farmers, white and black, were virtual serfs, and women could not vote. In 1900, we had no cars, airplanes, movies, penicillin, and God save us, the Internet. Bigotry of every stripe fed into laws about who could vote, who could marry whom, and who could sit in the front of the bus. In an awakening democracy, legions of people who could have otherwise contributed to the national well-being were shut out. In 1916, a hundred years ago, American men could expect to live to be 49, women 54. A year later, America joined "The Great War," a war with as many as half a million causalities in a single battle. After that came the nightmare of World War Two. To honor those patriots we call the Greatest Generation, despite the continuing struggle for economic parity and human rights, we have picked ourselves up and moved forward into the light. In the spirit of the Reformation, we have championed the primacy of the individual voice. We have championed science. We have championed education for all. In a word, we have prevailed.
Our South Carolina Secretary of Labor, Bobby Hitt, regularly posts the good news. He writes:
"In South Carolina, we’ve made notable headway over the last five years, recruiting more than 80,000 new jobs. Our unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2001. We now lead the nation in the export of both automobiles and tires. Based on the 2016 Emerging Trends Report, growth in Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Greenville, Charleston, and Columbia outpaces the rest of the county. According to The Huffington Post, Charleston's tech economy is outpacing the nation, growing 26 percent faster than the national average.
Thanks to a positive business climate and a talented workforce, in 2014 existing firms committed to investing more than $2.4 billion to grow their operations, bringing approximately 7,000 new jobs to the state. This past August, globally-recognized brands such as Honda, Haier and ZF announced significant expansion, creating nearly 1,000 new jobs. From 2011-2014, manufacturing jobs here grew by 13.5 percent. With BMW, Continental Tire and The Boeing Company here, there's no question that this state is in the middle of a manufacturing renaissance.
There is more. The widening of the Panama Canal coupled with the increased capacity of both the ports of Charleston and Savannah, are creating opportunities to recruit spin off industries to potentially transform the communities into a regional gateway for the U.S.
The state’s rural communities are also thriving. Since 2011, we've announced more than 160 projects and approximately $3.5 billion in capital investment in South Carolina's rural counties, creating nearly 15,000 new jobs. These areas (including Kershaw County) represent the backbone of our economy.
Comedian Milton Berle said, "If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door." Berle’s message resonates.
Thank you, Secretary Hitt. Thank you, Milton Berle.