Column by S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith: A focus on workforce development in our state


Spend any amount of time around Gov. McMaster, and you will hear, "South Carolina is booming!" Indeed, it is. In just the last year, South Carolina announced investments of more than $10 billon, the most in state history, representing the creation of over 14,000 new jobs. These investments will transform our economy for the better. Much as BMW in Spartanburg helped propel the economy in the Upstate, these new investments will boost the entire state.

Today, tens of thousands of South Carolinians are employed in automobile-related jobs across hundreds of different firms that followed BMW. The tremendous success of the Spartanburg BMW plant shined a spotlight on the state's people and economy, showing companies across the globe what we have known all along - South Carolina is the best place to live, to work, to raise a family and to do business. Boeing, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have all followed suit and helped create a manufacturing environment second to none.

While I am proud of our accomplishments, there is always room for improvement to maintain, to expand our competitive advantages and to continue to attract the type of high-paying jobs South Carolinians want and deserve. To start, more South Carolinians need to be working. Increasing the state's labor participation rate by just one percent will result in more than $1 billion in additional payroll for South Carolina families. The jobs are coming to this state; we need our men and women to fill them.

That starts by keeping our homegrown talent in the state. South Carolina's higher education system has a responsibility to educate the future workers of this state for the jobs this economy is producing. Engineering, technology and STEM all need to be areas of focus for our universities as an economy based on skill becomes more prevalent. There is every reason that the sons and daughters of South Carolina should go to school here, work here and raise their own families here. Nonetheless, with the recently announced historic investments and more to come, thousands of new jobs will be created here, and I hope to see those jobs filled by South Carolinians. To ensure that, we must systemically revamp our workforce efforts statewide and focus on training and educating our current and future workforce, all while providing the opportunities and tools to retain our best and brightest.

I'm proud to cosponsor legislation this week stemming from the Economic Development and Utility Modernization Ad Hoc Committee I appointed that lays the foundation for maximizing our workforce development potential to create economic opportunities for all South Carolinians. This is the first of many recommendations I expect the committee to make in the weeks ahead as their progress continues on issues related to education, childcare, taxes, incentives, infrastructure and energy reform.

The legislation filed this week will streamline the delivery of workforce development efforts in the state. Currently these responsibilities needlessly lie with too many different agencies that do not adequately coordinate. That approach must end. This bill will eliminate duplication, improve efficiencies and achieve a more coordinated effort in our workforce and education pipeline. There will be a one-stop shop for citizens and businesses to access all workforce and education services statewide. Further, it will remedy the current challenge of navigating the complex, confusing and tangled web of services offered across numerous agencies and programs. The legislation is designed to maximize opportunity for South Carolinians by engaging the private sector to tell the state what it needs to maximize workforce efficiencies.

Among the new initiatives is a Workforce Opportunity Portal. The portal will include a Career Pathways and Roadmap Tool - a user-friendly tool connecting occupational data and educational programming to provide parents, students and job seekers with the necessary information to make informed educational decisions. The Educational Program Alignment Toolkit will be created to align education and training programs to match the job opportunities in South Carolina to further ensure South Carolinians will have the skills to attain available employment in South Carolina. We owe it to our students, job seekers and working families to provide the workforce and education solutions that lead to sustainable, high-paying jobs.

Investing in our workforce is an investment in our future. It is our best defense in a looming recession and our best offense in a booming economy. I look forward to working with the governor and the Senate to pass this legislation to support South Carolina's booming economic success and provide upward economic mobility for our students, job seekers and working families.

Murrell Smith Jr. of Sumter is Speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives and represents District 67.