An Agenda to Move the Upstate Forward

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An Agenda to Move the Upstate Forward

The Upstate economy is humming right now by most any measure. Unemployment remains below 4 percent, incomes are increasing, building permits are increasing, the workforce is expanding, and the crane is on a short list to be named the Upstate’s official bird.

At the heart of the Upstate, Greenville is the fastest growing metro area east of Texas. More than 20 people a day are moving to Greenville County. These are new customers, new employees, and new vibrancy to our booming region.

“The Upstate business community is more united and engaged than ever before on the priorities that will move the economic needle for our region,” said Carlos Phillips, President/CEO of the Greenville Chamber. “In this time of political uncertainty and polarization, the business community is rallying to be the ‘sane middle’ that supports inclusive economic growth for the entire Upstate.”

Against this backdrop, investors in our 11 Chambers tell us they still have anxiety about the future.

All of our new neighbors are straining neglected infrastructure. It can be hard to find qualified workers to fill vacancies. Populist trends are threatening the international trade and investment that has fueled the Upstate’s prosperity. Some of our co-workers have trouble finding housing they can afford, and if they do find housing, it can be far from job centers and there isn’t convenient transit to get them to work, education, and healthcare.

Hundreds of business leaders — from all industries and business sizes — engaged with the Chamber last summer and fall to find policy solutions for many of these anxieties. The result is a 2018 Upstate Chamber Coalition policy agenda that seeks to electrify the economy and plug in the thousands of neighbors who haven’t shared in our prosperity.

2018 is the second year of two-year state and federal legislative sessions, so much of our work seeks to get our pro-growth agenda items across the finish line.

  • Expungement reform, which seeks to clean up the non-violent criminal records of thousands of Upstate residents, is at the top of that list.
    “It is important that more people can get jobs and participate in the workforce so we may continue our economic expansion,” said Dr. Keith Miller, Greenville Technical College president and the Greenville Chamber’s 2018 Board Chair. “A single, minor mistake made years ago should not be a lifelong barrier to employability. Our expungement legislation will help many of our neighbors get back on their feet and will help us close the workforce gap.”
  • We need to extend the successful angel investor tax credits that give our state’s entrepreneurs access to millions of dollars in capital so they can keep innovating.
  • Our economic developers who have been so successful in the Upstate need new tools to recruit high-paying corporate headquarters.
  • The General Assembly needs to finish the job of stabilizing our public pension system. If action is not taken, pension costs will continue to eat at local and state budgets and siphon money away from education, infrastructure, and public safety.
  • We’re pushing innovative solutions at the Statehouse that will help ease our region’s challenges with housing.
  • We’ll continue to push legal reforms that will protect our manufacturers and job creators from nuisance lawsuits.
  • We will push Congress to extend the trade policies that have created tens of thousands of jobs in the Upstate.

The agenda is not only clean-up items from 2017. There are a number of new items we will be pursuing in 2018:

  • At the state and federal level, business owners are concerned about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). More than three out of four business leaders want Congress to quickly extend the DACA program and then have the General Assembly allow these young adults to get the state certifications that are required for so many jobs. If no action is taken by March, 10 workers a day — workers with high school and/or college degrees — will begin to vanish from South Carolina as they lose their work permits.
  • We want to turn the debate on infrastructure away from lane miles and into water and sewer capacity, runway feet, gigabytes, and mass transit.
  • GSP International Airport is a significant economic driver in the Upstate, and a vibrant airport is an important factor CEOs use when looking to locate in an area. The General Assembly needs to direct money to commercial aviation for the first time so our airports may continue to expand.
  • Governments at all levels, city, county, state, and federal, need to invest in mass transit. According to Greenville County government data, each dollar invested in Greenlink has a $3.50 return to the economy as people can join the workforce, increase their job skills, and access healthcare.

The highlight of our agenda-setting process this fall was the record number of business leaders who took part in our legislative survey – a number that has doubled since 2015.

We appreciate your activism. The voice of business leaders from across the state is vital to getting these priorities enacted into law. Thank you for your input, and we look forward to working with you and delivering results for the business community again in 2018.