Monday, September 20, 2010

Education important to job Development

Bluffton Today
Our mail registered a significant uptick the last three weeks as I passed along some of the things we have been doing on the jobs front here in South Carolina, with an emphasis on the Lowcountry. As always, I commend Kim Statler and her crew at the Lowcountry Economic Network for all the great things they are pursuing.

I also need to thank Anna Cauthen and Matt Green for the invitation to Coffee Talk last week. We had around 25 young businesspeople at the Downtown Deli for a fun, productive event. It is always a pleasant surprise when I get to see and hear from the intelligent and creative folks in our up-and-coming business community. The very fact that they are working so hard sometimes means that we don’t get to hear from them as much as we ideally should. There is no age limit on good ideas.

Continuing somewhat indirectly in the jobs vein that I have followed for the last three weeks, I need to reference last week’s column in Bluffton Today by State Education Superintendent Jim Rex. In the piece, Mr. Rex gave us an overview of his recommendations to Gov. Sanford for the 2011-12 budget. He correctly pointed out that our teachers have not had a cost of living raise for three years, they also have 3000 to 4000 fewer colleagues sharing their work load, and are looking at something like 78,000 mandatory furlough days in the next year which amounts to a $20 million pay cut. They have significantly more students per teacher, and are using increasingly outdated textbooks and software.

Furthermore, Mr. Rex will recommend $40 million to help revamp our oldest-in-the-country school bus system. This is not only about the safety of our children, it is about the disruption that late or broken down buses cause in the school day, not to mention parental anxiety.

What I didn’t hear from Mr. Rex was how many administrators have lost their jobs or been given mandatory furloughs. In my time in Columbia, I have seen the Dept of Education grow tremendously with various specialists of one sort or another. The implication is that administrators somehow make the front-line teachers more effective or more efficient. If that were truly the case, the proliferation of administrators would certainly be reflected in dramatic improvement in our national rankings or test scores.

My thinking on this is we need to pay our teachers a respectable, predictable wage. They are worth it. You have heard me say many times that school funding priorities should focus in the classroom and decrease as we move further up the ladder. If my thinking on this is wrong, tell me why.

If we are going to have public school buses, let’s not have the oldest, most worn out units in the country. This, in my view, is a false economy. If there is a better way to handle school transportation, let’s hear it.

When I am in talks with companies about locating in South Carolina, I always like to talk about our tax structure, our right-to-work laws, good climate, and improving port system. What I least like to talk about is education. Unfortunately, business folks that are looking to ask employees to relocate to our state are more than a little interested in our school systems. When I have to say some school systems are excellent and some are not, my sales pitch tends to lose momentum.

Friends, one way or another, we are going to have to deal with this issue. I am open for ideas. Let me hear from you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Economic development creates spinoff effect

Bluffton Today

I’d like to conclude my comments
begun several weeks ago on the Coastal
Caucus meetings in Myrtle Beach. There
is little doubt that bringing Boeing to the
Charleston area was the culmination of
years of serious preparation and conversation
among ahost of parties, both
inside and outside government.

The economic benefits of the plant
are impressive, but for me the spinoff
affect is where much of the enduring
gains will be found. The fact is that 91
percent of the components of the airliners
assembled in Charleston are from
South Carolina firms.

Some of these businesses were already here and
tooled up for Boeing, while many others
located here, bought property, built buildings
and hired local folks to work for them.

The skills and the capacities involved in
these Boeing-related suppliers are now the basis
for attracting other manufacturers to our area.

The new businesses need facilities,
vehicles, consulting services, computers,
office furniture and a whole gamut
of goods and services that will further
stimulate our economy.

The intangibles that come from this
general feeling of renewed prosperity
are also certainly a factor in our
conversations with potential additions
to the business community. Success
begets success. This is why your representative
invests so much time and
energy working with Kim Statler and
the Lowcountry Economic Network.

Each time we bring a CareCore to
Bluffton, or a Boeing to Charleston, or
even a BMW to the Upstate, we expand
our foundation to support further
successes.

As chairman of the Economic Development
Subcommittee of Ways and Means, these are
stories I enjoy sharing second look at South Carolina.

As we look further downstream to
the Jasper Port and all the potential
spinoff that will entail, we can begin
to see the outline of a more balanced,
less visitor-based economy.

While tourism is certainly a productive
economic engine, having all our
eggs in that fragile basket sometimes
keeps me up nights. Witness the recent
disaster visited upon our friends along
the Gulf Coast.

Even over the holiday, I heard from
many of you — almost 300 of you, in
fact. While I will never take for granted
the excellent level of communication I
have with you, it is particularly important
at this time.

I am working with Chairman
Weston Newton and County Council,
along with the municipalities, in putting
together our legislative agenda for
the next session of the General Assembly.

We are discussing, along with
County Councilman Jerry Stewart,
what needs to be done to keep S.C. 170
safely passable until it is widened. We
are looking at the transportation issues
on Daufuskie Island.

This place is such a gem and could
be enjoyed by many more folks if getting
to and from the island was not so
problematic. I am also hearing from
many of you about the current limitations
on golf cart travel. That measure
will be reintroduced on the first day of
session.

Finally, let’s take afew moments at
the end of summer, before all the festivals
and holidays that come along with
the cooler weather of Fall, to simply
take stock of all the good things that
are happening, especially in Bluffton.

By most reports, business in the
shops, galleries and restaurants of old
town is booming. We survived the road
construction and traffic is certainly
manageable for the time being.

Now might be a perfect time to
adopt that attitude of gratitude that
seems to deepen our appreciation
of the good times as well as fortify us.

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.