Guest blog by
Vice President of Public Policy and Communications
South Carolina Chamber of Commerce
While I am a big fan of a good, clean but hard fought campaign season, I am just as eager to look at it in the rearview mirror when it’s finally over. I did enjoy short two and three day stints in a couple of battleground states like Virginia and Nevada. There, I got to see firsthand what the citizens of those states endured as early as July and August with an onslaught of commercials. Now, it’s kind of refreshing to see Bill Green back on television!
With the dust settled here in the Midlands, we are fortunate to have strong leaders like Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson and new Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler both returning to the State House in January. These are two statesmen that keep the best interest of South Carolinians as their first priority and are always looking for new ways to spur economic growth in the Palmetto State.
Now, we turn our attention to governing and working on issues important to moving South Carolina forward and increasing wealth and prosperity for everyone. I’m reminded of Governor Haley’s comments at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting in November when the governor said, “I want South Carolina to have the No. 1 business climate in the country.” The South Carolina Chamber has the same goal. We compete every day with states like Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia for new jobs and capital investment.
The Chamber has identified two key areas the Palmetto State must take immediate action on if we are going to be No. 1. We must invest in our roads and bridges, and we must transform education, beginning with a focused plan on early childhood education.
We can all quote various statistics about the poor condition of our state’s infrastructure. This is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that South Carolina needs a comprehensive strategy. It’s unfortunate that local governments have to step up to the plate to fund infrastructure, while state leaders have continued to sit on the sidelines. Right here in the Midlands, a Democratic stronghold in the state, citizens recently passed the penny for progress tax. Likewise, GOP strongholds like York, Dorchester and Horry Counties have also passed a penny tax for infrastructure.
Increased focus on funding infrastructure has driven economic opportunity. While the private sector can lead in many ways, it cannot be responsible for making decisions to build and maintain roads. This is a core function of government. The South Carolina Chamber and allied organizations are advocating for a focused, statewide strategy to invest $6 billion in infrastructure over 10 years by prioritizing state resources. If successful, this effort will create more than 170,000 jobs.
The General Assembly has been proactive in dedicating nearly $500 million for a port access road and the harbor deepening project. With this dedicated funding, the Navy Base terminal expansion and the Panama Canal expansion, the port is expected to double container volume over the next decade. That’s hundreds of thousands of additional trucks on Interstate 26 and other state roadways. The state must also dedicate additional resources to roads and bridges quickly so that we are prepared to handle the increased activity.
Furthermore, we have to be proactive in the education of our children. Businesses are the largest consumers of our state’s educational system. As such, businesses need to make sure the final product is suitable for students to enter a competitive and global workforce. Currently, nearly 30% of our students are not graduating from high school.
Although a lot is being done well in public education, business leaders are uniting in an effort to transform education. That’s right, transform, not reform. In order to transform education, the Chamber believes the state must focus on early childhood education, specifically on school readiness and 3rd grade reading proficiency. The statistics in these two key areas are indicative of whether a child is likely to graduate from high school nearly a decade later.
Today, students learn differently that even I did in elementary school. My three-year-old is able to operate an iPad, which allows her to begin to read on her own. It is imperative that we engage students through the educational system in a style that they can relate to and in an environment where they can learn.
The state is poised to spend $200 million on new textbooks over the next four years. While we should not completely eliminate hardbacks from the classroom, we must be strategic in how we deliver instruction to students today. We must continue to use technology in the classroom and provide teachers with the ability to assess their students in real time so that they can effectively teach the core concepts that students may be struggling with. In the time I have spent writing this blog, I’m sure my iPhone and the apps I regularly use have many updates waiting on me. It’s the world we live in.
Infrastructure and early childhood education are the critical areas that are holding South Carolina back from leading the nation in job and wealth creation. We must invest in the physical needs of our roads and bridges, but also the intellectual needs of our children.
Together, we can be #1!
To learn more about the business community’s 2013 Competitiveness Agenda click here.
Darrell Scott is vice president of public policy and communications at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at email@example.com or 803-255-2639. Follow him and the SC Chamber at @SCChamber @DarrellTScott.