Moving the Upstate Forward in 2016

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Thursday, December 10, 2015

Business knows when to invest.

When times are good, it is time to invest in the future and resist efforts to maintain the status quo. It’s easy to check boxes and mimic what got you here, but if you want your business to thrive, it takes wise investment during good times.

Our state is no different. It has been seven years since the financial markets melted down and state tax revenues dried up. The state took prudent measures and cut budgets rather than raising taxes like some states. State officials project $1.2 billion in new revenue next year, which means it is time to restore cuts in core government functions and support the programs that will move our state forward for the next decade.

As business leaders, we must insist our leaders make prudent investments in our future.

The Upstate Chamber Coalition’s 2016 agenda focuses on five areas: Infrastructure, Education and Workforce, Growing Our Businesses, Boosting Tourism, and Promoting Good Government.

Transportation and Infrastructure. When the Upstate Chamber Coalition was formed more than a decade ago, fixing our state’s roads was on the agenda. Necessity focused our resources on maintaining primary routes that carry the vast majority of our traffic while neglecting tens of thousands of miles of rural roads. Now, our rural roads are the second-deadliest in the country. We can do better.

Our opponents use expert bob and weave tactics, red herrings, and partisan ideology to avoid the reality that our infrastructure needs immediate attention. The last time the gasoline user fee was increased was during the Reagan Administration. If it had kept up with inflation, the user fee should be more than double what it is today.

Investment in infrastructure is an investment in jobs. Georgia approved a massive infrastructure spending package this year. They’re already ahead of us and looking to extend their lead. The Upstate’s unique position at the center of two major interstates and 300 miles from a Top 10 port will cease to be an advantage if manufacturers can’t get their goods to market.

Education and Workforce. The University of South Carolina estimates that by 2030, 114,000 jobs could go unfilled in our state because we don’t have the workers with an appropriate education. Without those workers, those jobs will go to the communities who can provide them. We must invest in education and workforce today so we’ll have the workers ready in 15 years – education doesn’t operate on a two-year election cycle.

The General Assembly needs to continue increasing the base student cost – the fundamental building block of K-12 education funding – which still is only 79 percent of what the statute “requires.” Last year, the General Assembly took a major step toward restoring funding to pre-recession levels, but we have a long way to go.

Next, the General Assembly needs to fund – either through the available one-time revenue or through a bond bill – workforce development projects and our technical colleges. This investment will pay tremendous dividends for decades.

Expand and Grow Business. We support initiatives to grow and nurture our entrepreneurs so they can become the next great American success stories. This means continually working to improve our state’s 14th-worst business legal climate, streamlining business regulation and taxes, and supporting efforts like the Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation.

We support efforts to incentivize companies that want to locate here, but creating our own business headquarters is vital to creating high-paying jobs and supporting the community with the philanthropy that comes with them.

Boost Our Fast-Growing Tourism Sector. This is new to the Coalition’s agenda, but we are excited to boost this booming Upstate industry. Hardly a week goes by without one of our Upstate communities mentioned on a Top 10 list. Tourism supports more than 15,000 jobs in the Upstate and more than $1.5 billion in economic activity. By working with other chambers and tourism agencies across our state, we can create jobs and increase tax revenue paid by folks visiting our state.

Promote Good Government.  As a Chamber, we are here to facilitate debate and promote good policies that will promote our entire community. We will work with our elected officials – at all levels – to streamline government and restore faith in our elected leaders. We will champion vigorous but civil discourse to find solutions to move our region forward.

These are, of course, only a fraction of the important issues we will advocate for on your behalf in 2016. Your Chamber of Commerce is your voice in Columbia and Washington. We invite you to join us in 2016 to engage in the political process and assist us in serving you. The Upstate Chamber Coalition’s 13 Chambers of Commerce, 8,000 businesses, and 200,000 employees speak with a louder voice when yours is included in our ranks.

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