S.C. House speaker pushes continued economic development

In his first year as South Carolina’s speaker of the House, Murrell Smith has made economic development his top priority.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 6:35 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - In just the last six months, South Carolina leaders have announced more than $15 billion in economic development investments across the state.

In his first year as South Carolina’s Speaker of the House, Sumter Republican Murrell Smith has put growing that number as his top priority as the leader of the legislature’s lower chamber.

“I think we’re really poised to continue this momentum we’ve had in economic development, and our number 1 priority is to create jobs for South Carolinians,” Smith said in a recent interview.

To fill the thousands of new jobs expected in the coming years, Smith said South Carolina needs to rev up its workforce. That’s been much of the focus of economic development efforts during this year’s legislative session, which ends in two weeks.

The state’s House of Representatives passed two workforce development bills since January: one to consolidate all statewide efforts in this arena under one agency, the Department of Employment and Workforce, and the other to ensure students are prepared for college or a career when they graduate high school.

“As we work through this process and we continue to have companies locate here and want to locate here, we need to make sure that we meet the needs of the workforce, not only for today but for the future,” Smith said.

Much of this came out of the work of an ad hoc economic development committee Smith formed last fall, which has been meeting since then, hearing hours of testimony, and recommending legislative action, including both workforce development bills.

Another bill passed in the House that came out of that committee’s work would give job development tax credits to companies that establish headquarters in South Carolina for certain industries.

“We did it for a number of emerging industries, especially the ones that are onshoring as a result of the CHIPS Act or realizing that we had the supply chain problems,” Smith said. “So we targeted it for pharmaceutical companies, research, and development — that’s a big key in creating a lot of jobs in our state — and then also with the chip manufacturers and semiconductors and the circuit board producers, and also emerging life sciences.”

In the upcoming state budget, which lawmakers will finalize in the coming weeks, money is set aside to expand workforce scholarships and start an apprenticeship and internship pilot program for students at the University of South Carolina, building off a program currently available at technical colleges.

Another $200 million would go to the Department of Commerce to purchase and develop shovel-ready mega-sites for companies looking to build in South Carolina.

It’s an approach Smith said has already paid off in Richland County, where Scout Motors quickly moved in on a shovel-ready site to build a new electric vehicle plant in a $2 billion investment, and in other states.

“You look at what North Carolina did over the past few years. They invested into mega-sites, and then they had a lot of success in locating expansive industries and new technology industries as a result of having shovel-ready sites,” Smith said.

Looking ahead to next year, the Speaker wants to see more done to address childcare and transportation needs for workers, along with utility modernization.

Smith said the state is especially focused on bringing more of these investments and jobs to rural counties.

“Right now, there’s a lot of interest,” he said.