Special Report: Economic Development Experts Laud South Carolina Incentives

Richard Breen

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Industry experts rank South Carolina No. 1 when it comes to economic development incentives, according to a recent survey.

The Palmetto State led the “business incentive programs” category in Area Development magazine’s annual Top States for Doing Business rankings. Local economic development pros say ease of use is a big factor in South Carolina’s incentives program.

“The S.C. Department of Commerce under Bobby Hitt has done a tremendous job of explaining the incentives and making them understandable,” said John O’Toole, Beaufort County economic development director.

The magazine ranked states in 12 categories, ranging from speed of permitting to workforce development. Steve Kaelble, staff editor, referred to South Carolina as a “regular leader” when it comes to incentives.

“The state has enacted a host of performance-based tax incentives that pay off for companies that create jobs and invest in their operations,” Kaelble wrote. “There are ways to totally wipe out the corporate income tax liability, plus sales tax exemptions reducing startup and operating costs, individualized property tax incentives, and other discretionary incentives. On top of that are education and training programs.”

Workforce development programs such as readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina have the attention of businesses looking to expand or locate here.

“When I meet with companies, that’s at the top of their list,” said Johnathan Coleman, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corp. “Instead of just handing out money, the state works directly with the companies.”

Hal Johnson of the NAI Earle Furman real estate firm in Greenville said it’s getting tougher and tougher for companies to find trainable labor.

“They’ve found a way to make training and recruitment of employees easier for companies,” said Johnson, who has worked as an economic development official on the state, regional and county level.

He said those types of “stumbling blocks,” whether they be workforce challenges or high property tax rates, are specifically addressed by the state.

“The incentives are tailored to even the playing field,” Johnson said.

The fact that South Carolina’s a small state can also help businesses, Coleman said.

“Everybody knows each other,” he said, and is willing to point companies to the right sources, whether it’s state or local economic developers or utility providers. “We call it Team South Carolina and it’s not just lip service.”

Overall, Georgia was No. 1 for the sixth year in a row, followed by Tennessee and then South Carolina. The Palmetto State finished fifth in 2018 and second in 2017 and 2016.

“We’re able to say year after year that we’re at the top and that says something about our business climate,” said O’Toole, who also spent more than 25 years as an economic development official in Connecticut.

Area Development determines its rankings though surveys of economic development professionals such as site selection consultants. A link to the full report is available here: https://www.areadevelopment.com/Top-States-for-Doing-Business/Q3-2019/overall-results-georgia-ranked-top-state-by-site-selection-c.shtml