Opinion: The fourth pillar for success

Opinion: The fourth pillar for success

The State
August 18, 2008

By Frank Knapp Jr.

Recently, legislative and economic development leaders announced “an outline for South Carolina’s future economic success and job creation plan.” They identified three pillars for success: manufacturing, distribution and services industries; tourism; and the knowledge economy.

Under their plan, the Department of Commerce would continue to provide economic development services for the first pillar, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism would be responsible for guiding growth in the second pillar, and the S.C. Research Authority would be leading facilitator for the third.

Accompanying this announcement was criticism of our state government’s economic development efforts in recent years. These efforts, traditionally lead by the Commerce Department, have been primarily about industrial recruitment and expansion of these big businesses. Legislative leaders have lamented the state’s failure to land Mercedes and Rolls Royce manufacturing plants; the Commerce Department points to BMW and Dupont Kevlar plants as successes.

The department’s considerable resources are poured into wooing big industrial prospects to come to our state and working with local leaders to prepare their areas to be more attractive to these out-of-state companies.

Privately, Commerce officials have long admitted that there has never been a plan for growing our state’s small businesses. In recent guest editorial, Commerce Secretary Joe E. Taylor Jr. uses the terms “recruiting” and “recruitment” seven times to discuss his agency’s economic development efforts. Growing in-state jobs is never mentioned.

In spite of pleas from those who represent and provide assistance to our state’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, the Commerce Department refused to devote even the minimal resources necessary for a statewide effort to grow our own small businesses and promote entrepreneurship in every community across the state, as many other states have successfully done.

Many organizations are in the business of growing small business jobs. The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce works to make state government more small-business friendly so our businesses can be successful. The S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership, S.C Women’s Business Center, Small Business Development Centers, technical colleges, S.C. Minority Business Development Center and other organizations play important roles in growing small businesses and entrepreneurs. All of these independent organizations scramble for funds, yet they serve tens of thousands of small-business owners each year.

While attracting or recruiting out-of-state jobs has always received big publicity and favorable attention from our elected leaders, efforts to help existing businesses and entrepreneurs are the long-term key to growing in-state jobs and developing our economy.

The new job creation plan as outlined by the legislative and other business leaders is to be applauded. The stated purpose is to grow our knowledge-based economy primarily by focusing and coordinating efforts to turn the new knowledge and technologies acquired at our research universities into new S.C. businesses and high-paying jobs.

This is exactly the kind of statewide plan to promote home-grown small businesses that we have been championing for some time. Our concern is that this plan targets only knowledge-based small business growth by taking responsibility for this economic development away from the Commerce Department.

Most small businesses in our state that aren’t considered “knowledge-based” have just as much to gain from such a focused economic development effort. They have the potential to grow well-paying jobs in every community in our state.

Leaving these small businesses and entrepreneurs behind to neglect is shortsighted. Let’s acknowledge that all the rest of our state’s small businesses are the fourth pillar for success and our just as deserving of a new state agency to lead them.

Mr. Knapp is the President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.