Monday, September 6, 2010

Business climate key for Boeing

Bluffton Today

I want to continue with my comments, begun in last week’s column, on the Coastal Caucus meeting in Myrtle Beach. In addition to the discussion of the “retreat” policy and the nexus between our natural resources and tourism, the Coastal Caucus meeting also included agenda items concerning jobs, education funding and my red-tape-reduction initiative.

The jobs feature was particularly informative and effective as we had a number of Boeing executives in attendance. Since I knew a fair number of the aircraft folks from our time negotiating the agreement to bring the new manufacturing facility to the Charleston area, I had hours of social time/informal meetings with a number of these good people. My being a licensed pilot didn’t hurt either. What I really wanted to know was what was it that turned the tide in our favor relative to our competitors in getting this airliner assembly complex in our state.

In the dozen or so conversations I had with various Boeing leaders, there were a number of themes that seemed to predominate. First, we welcomed them. We made it clear that we wanted to do business with them for the long term and were serious about creating a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Second, we demonstrated our seriousness by creating an incentive package that spoke to their needs without giving away the farm.

And third, we are a right-to-work state. This was important to them in light of some of their recent labor problems. As a legislator interested in quality jobs finding their way to our state and our area, the feedback was absolutely invaluable. Interestingly, a good part of my red-tape-reduction initiative came out of conversations, not only with Boeing executives, but also with other business people interested in relocating here. For a lot of folks, being excused from a load of bureaucratic complexity is all the incentive they need to look closely at South Carolina. Another extremely productive agenda item in Myrtle Beach was finally addressing school funding inequity.

I will be a primary sponsor of an initiative, along with many sponsoring members of both the Coastal and Republican Caucuses, to rationalize how the dollars from the 71 pots of education money in Columbia find its way to the classroom to meet the needs of individual students in our system. The various pots will be consolidated and the dollars will follow the student through the system. There will be additions.

l weighting for poverty in this formula, which is appropriate. A new feature will be that there will also be weighting for gifted and talented students as well. Ideally, the remediation needs of some students will no longer eliminate the resources for the cultivation of the faster advancing students. More on this as it comes forward.

Continuing in education, I met Mick Zais, former president of Newberry College, who is running for state superintendent of education. I have followed his work at Newberry, and it is pretty impressive. It is almost like a quieter, less flamboyant version of Lee Iacocca and Chrysler. Mick Zais has a military background and some interesting ideas how we might transform our education system.

Maybe I was impressed with him because we share some of those same ideas. We also share a sense of urgency in raising that particular bar.