Monday, November 2, 2009

Jobless help is coming

Bluffton Today

We had plenty of calls last week on the extension of unemployment benefits using the federal stimulus money. I’m happy to report that as of this writing, the technical measure to place our state in compliance with the federal criteria for receiving those dollars is likely headed to the governor by the end of the week, if not sooner. For those of you who called and said you had run out of benefits, you are going to be restored and your unemployment check will be made retroactive to your last pay period.

There is a seriousness of purpose here in Columbia with regard to the joblessness situation throughout our state. The status quo is unacceptable and we should use every tool available to support our idled workers while they find jobs. However, while we aid the unemployed, we should also redouble our efforts to attract good jobs to our state so that we are not dependent on seasonal or potentially transient industries.

In our area, I am working with Kim Statler and her colleagues at the Lowcountry Economic Alliance to fulfill our remaining 2009 agenda items and roll those that are incomplete over to the 2010 session. Among those projects is an initiative to reform our state’s economic development criteria so it is based on the average regional wage rather than per capita income.

While Beaufort County is #1 in per capita income, we are below Jasper County at #22 in average weekly wage. Although we certainly benefit from our contingent of wealthy retirees, we shouldn’t be penalized in our efforts to utilize the state’s economic development apparatus. Interestingly, this is also part of the EFA (Education Finance Act) formula that greatly restricts state support to our public schools.

I am also working to amend the South Carolina Incentive Qualifications for headquarters relocation so that incentives are available as long as a minimum of 10% of corporate payroll is dedicated to headquarters employees who earn twice the state average per capita income. This will open the door and put out the welcome mat to a much larger number of companies who have expressed an interest in relocating here but need a little boost in our direction. While I am certainly interested in attracting the large, 600+ employee companies to Beaufort County, it makes for a more stable economy if we can also attract 30 companies that employ 20 or more workers, especially when times are hard.

Finally, I want to share something that has tremendous potential upside for the Lowcountry. That is, the Boeing Corp has decided to expand in the Charleston area and we in Beaufort County are in line to host some of the ancillary companies that feed parts and supplies to the assembly operation. As chairman of the Economic Development Sub-committee of Ways and Means, I attended a recent marathon meeting that went into the early morning hours. Agreements were struck. The upshot is that when the Boeing project materializes, we will see a significant influx of good-paying, mostly technical jobs into Beaufort County.

Enjoy our gorgeous fall weather and let’s start thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday. I think it’s appropriate that we have a holiday dedicated specifically to gratitude.