State Chamber president: Work on your workforce

Ted Pitts, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, addressed members of the Batesburg-Leesville Chamber.



Workforce development is the main topic on the minds of business leaders across the Palmetto State.

That is just one of many insights gathered so far by South Carolina Chamber of Commerce president Ted Pitts during a statewide tour of local Chambers. That tour stopped in Batesburg-Leesville last week.

Mr. Pitts, a former state legislator from Lexington, met with about 30 members of the Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce during breakfast at Shealy’s Bar-B-Que. Mr. Pitts equipped each participant with an electronic “clicker” to register their answers to several multiple-choice survey questions. He then displayed and discussed the data collected on-the-spot.

“Batesburg’s tracking very similar to what we’re seeing around the state,” Mr. Pitts said. “Workforce development is the number one issue that folks are dealing with on several fronts.”

From August through October, Mr. Pitts will make 20 similar stops at local Chambers of Commerce around South Carolina. The data gathered will be compiled by the state Chamber and used in late October and November meetings to set two or three legislative priorities. Those priorities will be focus of lobbying state lawmakers when the General Assembly returns to session in January.

Currently, the state Chamber lists two legislative priorities – workforce development and comprehensive tax reform – as part of its 2019 “competitiveness agenda.” The organization continues to push for lowering the state’s personal income tax rate, often pointing to the fact that Florida and Tennessee are two nearby states with no state income tax. The state Chamber also advocates reforming the business license tax structure to include a single-payment processor for all business licenses.

In the area of workforce development, the state Chamber advocates for expanding training and career-awareness for high-demand jobs; more license reciprocity with other states in healthcare, education and other high-demand fields; and of course, more affordable workforce housing.

“Legislators want to know what affects their constituents,” Mr. Pitts said. “So when you get a good cross-section of the state like we do on our stops, it allows for us to go to a rural legislator and have the important conversations. It allows for us to understand what they’re hearing from their constituents, but also to be able to communicate with them what the problems are and what solutions we think could address them.”

In Batesburg-Leesville, for example, about 57 percent of those surveyed at last week’s Chamber breakfast do believe that workforce housing is an issue right here in our rural community. The state Chamber is working on model legislation that would offer incentives for the construction of affordable workforce housing.

“It’s not just in urban areas; it’s also in rural areas,” Mr. Pitts said. “There’s not a lot of good housing stock coming online that’s affordable.”

The term “affordable housing” often gets a bad rap, he said. “But it’s for that teacher who needs a place to live. That police officer, that nurse, that person who works for a manufacturing facility. They need to have housing options they can afford.”

More than 52 percent of those Batesburg-Leesville business leaders surveyed last week said that inadequate broadband internet access is a problem in South Carolina. The state Chamber of Commerce is lobbying for the creation of a statewide fund to support rural internet projects.

Education is a key component of workforce development, so the state Chamber tour is collecting data on business leaders’ attitudes toward education. In the Batesburg-Leesville meeting, 68 percent of those surveyed agreed that South Carolina should have statewide testing to compare the Palmetto State academically to other states. Also, more than 77 percent of local business leaders support “strong measures” to hold chronically underperforming school districts accountable.

This ongoing fact-finding tour across the Palmetto State reinforces for Mr. Pitts and the statewide Chamber of Commerce leadership that local Chambers still play a vital role in supporting economic development in South Carolina.

“The local chapters around the state are healthy. They’re doing well,” he said. “They truly are a place to bring business and the community and government together. As I’ve traveled the state, I’ve seen a lot of local chambers that are still the bedrock of communities, a place for the business community to have their voice heard and work on important issues.”

Story by Tony Baughman / Posted September 3, 2019