FLORENCE, S.C. – The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce joined to present the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce Annual Grassroots Tour on Wednesday.
This year’s luncheon meeting was held at the Darlington Raceway Media Center and engaged those attending in a survey.
Each year, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce partners with regional chambers of commerce throughout state to present the S.C. Chamber’s Alliance Grassroots Tour to share a state legislative update for area businesses.
The interactive luncheon offers the state and local chambers an opportunity to hear from local business and industry around the state regarding state legislative issues and business concerns.
The state chamber’s director of government affairs Will Frierson said they have made nine stops so far. Before the tour is over 46 local chambers will be heard from at 23 stops.
The feedback from this program will help shape the state chamber’s 2023 Competitiveness Agenda and set the chamber’s priorities for the next legislative session in Columbia.
The Competitiveness Agenda consists of the business community’s top legislative priorities for the year and is used as the foundation for its advocacy work with the General Assembly each legislative session.
Frierson said two of the 2022 legislative victories included the Comprehensive Tax Cut Act of 2022 and the S.C. Workforce Industry Needs Scholarship.
The meeting also provides an opportunity for the state chamber to hear feedback on what’s important to businesses in Pee Dee region of South Carolina going forward. That information is vital to the yearly policy planning process at the state level.
Frierson said about 50 percent of those the attending tour so far have said workforce development is the key issue.
The Florence and Hartsville chamber group said the biggest challenge facing their business today is lack of workers followed by inflation/increased input costs.
One of the questions he asked the group was how they would rate the overall economy in South Carolina. Nearly all rated it good.
Participants dialed in to a question and answered on their phones.
They were asked how they feel about the trajectory of the United States economy over the next 12 months. Most were slightly pessimistic, more than double the number that was pessimistic or slightly optimistic on the question.
Frierson said there are 10.7 million open jobs in the United States and 5.7 million unemployed with 2.8 million people having left the workforce since February 2020. He said there are about 122,000 open jobs in South Carolina with 75,685 unemployed. The Labor Force Participation Rate is 57.3 percent in South Carolina. The highest number of openings is in health care, retail/hospitality and manufacturing.
More than 70 percent of the people being polled said their business or organization was suffering from workforce challenges. Most of those challenges were in the form of lack of skilled workers, no or few applicants for open jobs, wage inflation and increased competition in the marketplace.
Most said they are increasing wages and providing better benefits to attract more workers, followed by changing hiring practices.
Frierson also discussed teacher shortages in South Carolina. He said 1,121 vacancies were reported in February 2022, the highest in state history. He said roughly 6,900 teachers from the previous school year did not return to teaching in 2021-22. That is a 15.5 percent increase from the previous year.
He said the state is raising starting teacher pay from $36,000 to $40,000 in budget for 2022-23. The national average starting pay is $41,770.
The average teacher pay in South Carolina is $53,188. The national average is $66,432.
The group said the policy solution that would have the greatest impact on teacher recruitment and retention would be raising starting teacher pay.
Another issue discussed in the survey was tax reform. Nearly everyone thought it is important for South Carolina to have a competitive tax climate.
Frierson talked about lawsuit reform.
He said 87 percent of the Republican primary voters support changing South Carolina law to allow for juries to consider all parties responsible for damages and appropriately assign damages based on a party’s share of fault.
The opinion of those at the Grassroots Tour luncheon was split about evenly when asked if they thought South Carolina had a fair legal climate.
In discussing economic development, Frierson said South Carolina is one of 15 states continuing to levy a capital stock tax. Unlike Alabama and Georgia, South Carolina does not implement a cap
Another question was whether South Carolina should expand the applicability of economic development incentives to recruit more corporate headquarters and white-collar employers. Nearly everyone voting voted yes.
Frierson said South Carolina was recently ranked as the 36th best state for business. Ranking policy solutions on their potential to improve South Carolina’s business climate, the majority said reducing regulatory burdens on business followed by lowering tax burdens on businesses and improving our public, K-12 education system would help the most.
Frierson said small business is big business. He said nearly 85 percent of the businesses in South Carolina have less than 20 employees and those businesses employ nearly 300,000 South Carolinians.
Most of those polled said lack of workers is the biggest problem they face, followed by inflation costs.
Frierson said the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s vision is for South Carolina’s economy to be the most vibrant in the United States, creating “opportunity and prosperity for all.”
Its mission is “to be the leading voice for business in South Carolina.” And one way to do that is for them to continue the Grassroots tour to hear what concerns its members most.
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