EDITOR’S NOTE: Creating more jobs was a top priority for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as she campaigned – and remains so a year into her term.
Those visiting her suite of offices in the Statehouse see a computer monitor announcing that the state has seen 20,600 new jobs created since she took office in January 2011.
Those entering her reception area find a state map with push pins where companies have expanded or relocated to create new jobs, but a nearby chart shows the state’s unemployment remaining stubbornly high — one point above the national average.
Haley recently sat down with reporter Robert Behre to talk about economic development in the state.
P&C: What grade would you give yourself as far as tackling jobs and the economy, arguably the state’s most important issue?
Haley: “I learned early on don’t give grades because you never win when you give grades. What I will tell you is I was incredibly frustrated when we started bringing all these great companies in and the unemployment number wasn’t going down.”
P&C: What was the problem?
Haley: “While we are one of the only states in the Southeast — I think the only state in the Southeast — that increased manufacturing jobs last year … and while we were one of the only states that has continued to get higher job growth, we continue to see the unemployment number has dropped — but not as fast as I wanted it to. What we found was the workforce was increasing. We’re seeing retired
people who can no longer live off their retirement. We’re seeing graduates who just got out of school but don’t have jobs, and then we’re seeing all the people who are excited about all the job growth and say I’m going to try it again.”
P&C: What is the next big step?
Haley: “I have people who need jobs, and I have companies that need workers, and there is a black hole in there that is not connecting the dots. … Not only are you going to see us focus in on training with actual measures that we’ve never done before, but the training that we’re going to do is so nationally accredited (through the nonprofit ACT organization) that manufacturing companies and all types of companies across the country will know it’s a trained workforce.”
P&C: Will you be able to get the state’s unemployment rate below the national average by the end of your first term?
Haley: “It’s my goal. And I don’t even want it below the national average. I want to see how low we can get it.”
P&C: How concerned were you about reports that some incorrect work was done on Boeing 787s in North Charleston? Will that set back the state’s reputation?
Haley: “I have stayed in constant contact with Boeing. They are incredibly proud of their workers. Their workers are incredibly proud of the quality of work that they do. I know that this is the first time they’re having to build these planes. There are going to be hiccups along the way.”
P&C: How can the Legislature help you with economic development?
Haley: “I need tax reform in a way that we are phasing out a corporate income tax, that we are simplifying the personal income tax and we are reducing the manufacturing tax, and I’ve got nothing but strong support, especially from the house. And I’ve told them we need stronger (anti) union bills.”
P&C: What anti-union measures do you want to see?
Haley: “There are bills introduced we are pushing that would basically make them show their financial records … so we know which politicians are getting paid, which consultants are getting paid and we want to know all of their national contracts. … We’re just going to make it harder for them to come into our state.”
P&C: You went to the Paris Air Show last year. Do you plan to go back?
Haley: “What I’ve told them (Commerce officials) is only take me where it matters. Only take me where we can close deals, so I really rely on (Commerce) Secretary (Bobby) Hitt to tell me where I’m needed.”
P&C: The Legislature has unanimously passed resolutions objecting to the state’s decision to permit to deepen the Savannah River for Georgia’s port and you said you’re going to veto it. Are you out of step with the people on this?
Haley: “I think the Legislature is totally out of step. Listen, they’re looking at this as a South Carolina versus a Georgia problem. What I will tell you is the $2.5 million that came out of the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) yesterday (for studying Charleston Harbor) would not have been possible without the support of the Georgia senators. That is a reality. … You’re going to continue see me work with Georgia to ensure we get everything we want in South Carolina.”
P&C: How does your approach to economic development differ from that of your predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford?
Haley: “I know what it’s like to be on the side of small business. … I tell every company that I talk to that I will be their No. 1 employee and that my job is continue to make sure they have cash flow and they continue to have profit margins. The second thing is I give them my cell number and I tell them when they have a problem they don’t have to call anyone else in government. They can call me directly.”
P&C: How many of those calls have you gotten?
Haley: “The amazing thing is as of all the companies we’ve given it to, I’ve probably just gotten two or three calls. What they love is the fact that if they need me, I will be there.”