CEO Survey Rates South Carolina the 8th-best State for Business

Richard Breen

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

South Carolina’s reputation suffered an unexplained slip in a recent survey of decision-makers, although it remains among the top states for doing business.

In the 2019 Best States & Worst States for business ranking by Chief Executive magazine, the Palmetto State came in at No. 8, down from a third-place tie in 2018 and No. 4 in 2017. The magazine received responses from 350 chief executives and company presidents for this year’s edition of its annual survey.

“This is really a reputation survey,” said Dan Bigman, editor and chief content officer at Chief Executive. “How much noise are you making in the CEO community? What kinds of headlines are you generating in the national press? What are CEOs hearing through the grapevine?”

Texas was No. 1 and has been for the past several years. Florida remained No. 2, followed by Tennessee, North Carolina and Indiana. Georgia ranked 10th.

In its analysis of South Carolina, the magazine wrote that manufacturing remained strong, with new growth coming from tech and financial services. It pointed to job creation and/or capital investments by companies such as Caterpillar, Google, JW Aluminum, Keurig Green Mountain and RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp.

Bigman said that nothing specifically negative about South Carolina jumped out from the survey. In general, a state’s tax/regulatory environment has a big impact with CEOs, but there’s an emerging factor that also carries a lot of weight.

“Talent,” Bigman said. “Where am I going to find the people? They want to hear that a state takes that seriously.”

The April unemployment rate in South Carolina was 3.4% compared to the national rate of 3.6%. Preliminary estimates from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce showed that every county in South Carolina saw a drop in its jobless rate compared to March.

Richard Blackwell, the former economic development director in Oconee County and currently a vice president of development with industrial developer Agracel Inc., said tightening labor markets are a topic of conversation all around the growing South.

“That’s what we’re hearing – workforce, workforce, workforce,” he said. “The ability to find talent is not easy.”

Bigman said one of the things that helps Indiana’s reputation among CEOs is its colleges, from Notre Dame and other small, private schools to its state university system. He said decision-makers want to know what states are doing to cultivate not simply good workers, but great ones.

“They’ve learned how to learn, they’re adaptive, they’re flexible,” Bigman said. “That’s a real strength when you’re trying to grow the people that are going to run the manufacturing plants of the future.”

As for the worst states, bottom seven were the same as in 2018. California was in last place, followed, in ascending order, by New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon.

The Chief Executive rankings are in their 15th year. Looking back, South Carolina ranked seventh in 2016, 10th in 2015, fifth in 2014 and No. 8 in 2013.

“South Carolina has always been highly regarded,” Blackwell said. “We’re still in the top 10, which says a lot.”

Blackwell added that the Palmetto State is known for a pro-business regulatory environment and aggressive tax incentives.

“We need to continue to do a good job of selling ourselves,” he said.