Wednesday, January 1, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

On the first day of this promising new year, I want to emphasize all those good things we have been blessed with this past year, with an eye toward keeping the positive momentum. To that end, I have spoken with a number of local business folks, many of them my Promenade neighbors, many from around the Old Town and other parts of District 118. The overwhelming consensus is that 2013 was a turnaround year, with good business and even better prospects for 2014.

For example, our new pizza place, between Councilman Ted Huffman’s excellent barbeque joint and dependably good Captain Woody’s, called Moon Mi, has only been open for a few months, but we have already blown away our admittedly modest productivity targets. The news is about the same across the board.

As part of our preparation for session that begins in less than two weeks, I spoke with my friends at the Department of Employment and Workforce, hoping to gauge what we might be looking at in terms of tax revenue this coming year. It seems that my informal polls and estimates were pretty close to the mark as far as new jobs and less unemployment were concerned. Unemployment in our state in November was around 7.1%, which is comparable to the rest of the country. The last time these numbers lined up was 2002.

The unemployment rate in Beaufort County for November was 5.9%, which compares very favorably with the 7.2% we endured last year at this time. Jasper County was around 6% unemployment in November, which was a massive improvement over the 7.6% unemployment we had in November 2012. With movement in our numbers such as we are seeing, it is easy to be optimistic.

I had a chance to speak with my friend Kim Statler last week and she did nothing to diminish my optimism. In fact, she swore me to secrecy on the details, but intimated that she and her economic development group were in talks with an international company that is looking at both Beaufort and Jasper counties as possible locations for a new major employer. They will be making presentations before a subcommittee of Ways and Means in a few weeks, with the possibility of relocating an installation from overseas to our neighborhood. Not only is this good news for possible new employment, it is also good subject matter when we reengage talks on the much needed Jasper port.

Related to all this is our ongoing mission to gain per-student appropriation parity for our four-year baccalaureate university, as well as our excellent technical college. With new jobs, we need educated and trained young people, or not-so-young people, to fill and excel at those jobs. Your legislative delegation made creditable progress last year on this mission, but this year we will bring it home. Our students in Beaufort and Jasper counties are just as deserving of equitable educational support as any students in the state. We will not rest until this injustice is corrected.

As our economy rebounds, it becomes more and more important that we finally address our failing roads and bridges. I expect that the business groups, such as the South Carolina Business Roundtable, will return to the statehouse with an even stronger case as to why we must repair and update our transportation infrastructure. Even with our excellent port facilities, and potential new facilities, businesses need to know they can move their goods to and from the ports without delays or damage due to bad roads or failing bridges.
Happy New Year, friends. This is going to be a good one.