By: Matthew Christian, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. – The divide between urban and rural South Carolina took center stage at the Florence stop of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Grassroots Tour.
During the question-and-answer portion of the tour, Darlington County Economic Development Partnership’s executive director, Frank Willis, had a question for the Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
“Rural South Carolina is hurting,” Willis said. “It has been hurting for a long time. Does the chamber have any kind of a position?”
“There is a South Carolina that’s doing pretty well,” Pitts said. “And there’s a South Carolina that’s not doing so well. We do need to look at – the chamber needs to be in the lead in this I think.”
Pitts said the attractiveness of the workforce is the reason that Boeing has a plant in North Charleston next to Charleston International Airport, and Volvo has a plant in Berkeley County. Earlier in that presentation, Pitts said that Dorchester County, which borders Berkeley and Charleston Counties, was the fastest-growing county per capita in the state. He also said that Charleston had surpassed Columbia as the largest city in the state.
“There’s less people obviously in rural South Carolina but there are opportunities that we continue to focus on,” Pitts continued.
Pitts said the state had to do a better job of attracting a different mix of business types. The state, he added, had done a very good job as a plant in the system of an international manufacturer, but wasn’t doing as well at attracting corporate headquarters or research and development facilities.
Pitts said the rural-urban divide ran across the Midwest of the country and included the Northeast and the South.
“I don’t know the solution but I think we’re looking at how you would bring resources or assets in – expertise in— to help figure out what a solution could be,” Pitts said. “That’s a good question. It’s something that gets talked about. The General Assembly talks about it.”
“We call it lip service,” Willis said in response.
Pitts said the state chamber had also identified the difference in education funding in rural vs. urban South Carolina.
Although many of the poorer, rural counties receive more in per student funding, much of the money is provided by the federal government. The federal government is fairly restrictive in what the money in provides can be used for. The urban counties, however, rely on local taxes, which provide more flexibility in the use of funds.
Pitts also discussed the need for continued infrastructure improvement and tax reform to keep the state competitive in the Southeast.
The grassroots tour stop was sponsored by the Greater Florence and Hartsville Chambers of Commerce and was held Friday morning at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.