A conversation with. Joe Taylor, South Carolina Secretary of Commerce
"We have a pro-business attitude and the logistics to go along with it, such as the Port of Charleston, our interstate system, and our location halfway between New York City and Miami."
A. Our governor, Mark Sanford, has initiated comprehensive tort reform and reduced workers compensation premiums. Companies saved $54.5 million in 2006 due to the reduction in the small business tax rate. We have a pro-business attitude and the logistics to go along with it, such as the Port of Charleston, our interstate system, and our location halfway between New York City and Miami. For the second year in a row, South Carolina has been named America's Most Business-Friendly State, based on an independent study published by Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Inc. In 2006, the governor made the office of Secretary of Commerce a full-time position. He brought in a full-time research director with a private-sector background, and recruited 50 percent more project managers. Last year, the Department of Commerce generated $2.98 billion in capital investment and 14,290 new jobs.
Q. What are your future goals?
A. Our goal is to continue to diversify key economic sectors. In aviation, Global Aeronautica, LLC opened a 334,000-square-foot facility in North Charleston adjacent to the Charleston International Airport that will assemble and integrate components of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Vought Aircraft's new fuselage fabrication facility in North Charleston will provide composite fuselage sections for the Dreamliner. We credit the Center for Accelerated Technical Training (CATT), our state worker training program, as one of the key factors for attracting these two newest aerospace projects. Cytec Industries chose Greenville for a carbon fiber plant that will employ an additional 225 people. The firm already employs 290 at carbon fiber plants in Greenville and Rock Hill. Their product is used by a variety of commercial and military aerospace customers. Lockheed Martin Aircraft and Logistics Center and General Electric also have a presence here. An estimated 65,533 jobs are directly and indirectly supported by aviation in the state, including multipliers, commercial, general aviation, and military.
Q. Is automotive still an economy driver?
A. Our automotive cluster continues to expand. The DaimlerChrysler Sprinter Van production facility is scheduled to come online this year, and BMW in Greer produced its 1 millionth vehicle. Related to automotive, hydrogen and fuel-cell technology is having a growing impact. The Savannah River National Laboratory has one of the largest concentrations of hydrogen researchers in the United States. The University of South Carolina (USC) is home to the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Fuel Cells; and in Greenville, Clemson's International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), explores hydrogen-related initiatives. Timkin, BMW, and Michelin all participate with ICAR, utilizing joint research capabilities with Clemson's engineering schools. Our legislature is in the process of debating a hydrogen technology bill to put money in research hands.
Q. Have exports helped the state's financial picture?
A. Our 2006 exports totaled more than $13.6 billion in goods sold to 197 countries around the world. The state's top 10 export industries last year were vehicles, machinery, plastics, rubber, organic chemicals, paper and paperboard, optics and medical equipment, wood pulp, and cotton yarn and fabrics. Canada was our number-one export market in 2006, with $3 billion in products purchased. We have a new international trade office opening in Canada, and we already have trade offices in Germany, Japan and China. Trade missions are headed this year to Canada, Central America, Australia, Vietnam, and China.
Q. How is legislation working to lure new business?
A. This year in 2007, workers compensation reform is foremost on the governor's agenda, so that we can control those costs for small businesses. In 2006, the governor passed the Venture Capital Investment Act, which provided $50 million in capital from future tax revenues to recruit and establish startup companies in the state. Recently, final allocations were passed for the selection of four funds that focus on different sectors.
Q. Any regions showing promise?
A. We are seeing fairly significant widespread success in our rural areas. Approximately 23 percent of the work force lives in rural South Carolina. Twenty-eight percent of capital investment is also routed to rural areas. The I-77 Corridor - including Chester, York, and Lancaster Counties - enjoys dual access to rail and the interstate system.