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Business as usual if Haley leaves, business leaders say

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Since Nikki Haley first assumed the governor’s role in 2010, Upstate economic development has never been better.

According to data from Upstate SC Alliance, nearly $13 billion in new capital investment has been announced in the Upstate since 2010, resulting in the creation of more than 36,000 new jobs.

The state has propelled to No. 2 in the country for doing business, according to Area Development – a quarterly magazine aimed at site consultants and other industry executives – and No. 7 for business climate, according to Site Selection magazine.

Business executives rated the state No. 2 for its business climate and in the top 15 for new plants in 2016, both overall and per capita.

But now, one of the state’s biggest economic development cheerleaders is moving on after being nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next ambassador to the United Nations. Haley accepted the nomination on Nov. 23 and will still have to be confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate – a process that won’t begin until the new Congress is seated in January.

Despite that, business leaders are not pressing any panic buttons as Haley potentially departs after just six years in office.

“It is hard to tell what effect it will have, but I feel she has helped put South Carolina in such a great position,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance. “I think we will be fine looking forward.”

Haley’s nomination did receive the approval of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce as Haley’s “leadership and ability to solve problems will serve our country and world well,” according to a statement. The chamber called Haley the “jobs governor” and called the past six years of her administration “the best years of job and business growth the Palmetto State has ever experienced.”

“Her leadership will be missed,” the statement read.

Individually, counties in the Upstate have benefited from the economic development work put in at the state level. Greenville County has seen nearly $2 billion in new capital investment and close to 9,000 new jobs from 2011 to 2015.

Laurens County had a banner 2015 as 892 new jobs were brought in along with more than $147 million in capital investment – the most since the first available statistics in 2010. Spartanburg County has seen its capital investments climb from $92 million in 2010 to more than $2 billion in 2014 – its highest total over six years.

All-in-all, the Upstate has benefited from seven trade missions and various business negotiations taken by Haley, but the conventional wisdom is that is not likely to change, even with a change in administration.

“We feel like South Carolina is in such a good spot with economic development,” Lummus said. “I don’t feel there will be great change because when people see great success and a great formula, there is really no reason to change it.”

S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said the state has had the mission of recruiting and growing business inside the state and “our commitment to that mission of elevating economic development remains unchanged.”

“We look forward to continuing to work together with the governor and the General Assembly to share the story – both in our state and around the world – that South Carolina is just right for business,” Hitt said.

If Haley is confirmed by the Senate, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, a former U.S. Attorney and state attorney general would be elevated to the governor’s office. While most of McMaster’s experience has been in the legal field, he was a former member of the S.C. Ports Authority board and the state Commission on Higher Education.

Since becoming lieutenant governor in 2014, McMaster has overseen the Office on Aging and an initiative to help seniors learn more about technology, information, media and engagement.

But, even with a limited business portfolio, Lummus said he was confident that McMaster would have similar business positions and policies as Haley. If nothing else, he said the economic leaders across the state have a proven formula that has worked in attracting billions in capital investment while creating thousands of new jobs over the last six years.

“With the team approach we have here in South Carolina, I am still confident that we will do what we need to do,” Lummus said.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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