EASLEY — S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt was the keynote speaker for the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Luncheon, highlighting many of the state’s achievements and the county’s hurdles where economic development was concerned.
Hitt, appointed in 2011 by Gov. Nikki Haley, spoke about the state’s successes in recruiting new business and manufacturers to the state, pointing out South Carolina has brought in $5 billion in three of the last four years and what appears will be another added to the list as the state is expected to exceed $5 billion in new development in 2015.
Prior to 2011 South Carolina had never broached the $5 billion mark.
“As a state any of the 46 counties should be excited about this kind of economic development being spearheaded by the state,” Hitt said on Nov. 12. “We are showing unbelievable strides as a state when it comes to bringing jobs and investment in, and other than two counties which have not received a benefit, everyone should be very happy as we continue to grow and expand.”
One of the two counties to not receive a boon from the governor’s economic development efforts is Pickens County. Business owners and their guests in attendance were curious as to why the county has been on the short end of the stick.
According to Hitt, one of the reasons for Pickens County’s lag behind the rest of the state is a lack of “ready inventory,” or sites prepared for industry to occupy or use, or spec sites built ready to house industry.
“Leaders in the community have to step up and have sites ready, not land, but spec sites for potential employers to view and occupy. I know, it isn’t easy and it’s risky, but it’s also what works,” Hitt said. “It’s business and with business comes risk. But, in essence, Pickens County is not ready and that hurts.”
Hitt cited South Carolina’s growth in the region, showing how the state is outpacing both Georgia and North Carolina in new job and business development.
According to Hitt South Carolina has experienced a 10.6 percent growth in comparison to 8.2 percent with Georgia, and 7.8 percent with North Carolina.
With Pickens County there has to be an effort to prepare, he said.
“This business is all about inventory and that means not just land but an opportunity for someone to come in, see what they are getting, and ready for them to land and go to work,” Hitt said. “If we have what we need to sell, they will buy. It’s all about being ready to go in a short period of time. If you go into a store looking for pants and they don’t have them, you go somewhere else. It’s the same in economic development.”
Hitt did stress Pickens County has the manpower and experience to be competitive in luring businesses but he also stressed local leadership needs to get on board to make an impact.
“As a state our secret sauce is our workforce. Our workforce is great, they are willing to show up, they are ethical, and have the right kind of work ethic businesses are looking for,” Hitt said. “A lot of our recent success stories from around the state are because of our workforce. I have never underestimated the worker in South Carolina, including Pickens County.”
When asked about the county’s lack of membership in a regional development group, Hitt was positive the lack of membership and participation hurts Pickens County.
“I was part of Upstate Alliance in the beginning and have worked with groups like Ten at the Top, so I don’t have to think about it very long,” Hitt replied. “The answer is yes, the county not participating in regional development groups definitely hurts Pickens County’s economic development efforts.”
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.