South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster promised Wednesday night to keep the state on the same track that has led to a booming economy by prioritizing education and infrastructure, maintaining business-friendly policies, inviting innovators into the state and keeping unions out.
“We are here tonight to address successes, challenges and opportunities,” the governor said in the annual State of the State delivered at the State House with legislators, members of his cabinet and the justices from the South Carolina Supreme Court in attendance.
McMaster said the state economy in 2023 created a record budget surplus, over $1.64 billion, with more than $9.21 billion in capital investment and 14,120 jobs created. Since 2017, the state has announced more than $36.4 billion in new investments from companies creating 86,378 new jobs, he said.
Besides the business investments, McMaster pointed to the South Carolina attributes that attract new companies and inspire growth by existing ones, such as tourism destinations that are also good for the people who live here.
“South Carolina was named as one of the top five golf destinations in the world and best in the country for 2023, according to the International Association of Golf Travel Operators. Ours is the only state in the United States to make this list, sharing recognition with Cyprus, Dubai, Los Cabos and Thailand,” he said. “This reputation was evidenced in 2023 by the announcement of a new PGA TOUR tournament, the Myrtle Beach Classic, which will debut in May, joining the prestigious RBC Heritage tournament held the month before on Hilton Head Island.”
He also pointed to other destinations around the state, such as the Darlington Raceway, Charleston’s ever-present place on destination lists, Hilton Head being named the No. 1 island by Conde Nast readers and a destination newcomer: Greenville’s Unity Park, named by Reader’s Digest Magazine as one of the “Nicest Places in America.”
The governor also restated a commitment to investing in the education system needed to build a workforce, the initiatives from better teacher pay to college tuition assistance, in addition to investments in programs from kindergarten through higher education.
The governor stated that growth and development, while good for the economy, should not be undertaken at the peril of the state’s natural world that plays such a significant role in attracting not just tourists but the workforce needed to operates the industrial and business engines behind prosperity.
“South Carolina’s mountains, beaches, sea islands, lakes, and marshes are among the most beautiful in the nation,” he said. “This land, as noted by the explorers for kings and queens, is lush, fertile and brimming with abundance, flora and fauna. Our incomparable cultural and environmental heritage distinguishes our state and people from others. And all possess a strength and beauty we must never lose. Fortunately, economic growth and the preservation of our shared heritage are not opposing objectives which must be balanced as in a competition, one against the other. Instead, they are complementary, intertwined and inseparable, each dependent on the other. To strengthen one is to strengthen the other.”
The governor said he is recommending to the Legislature that $33 million be appropriated to identify and preserve culturally or environmentally significant properties, disaster recovery and flooding mitigation efforts as well as beach renourishment projects along the coast.
“We cannot allow our state’s culturally and environmentally significant structures, monuments, lands, islands, and waters to be overcome by development, mismanagement, flooding, erosion, or storm damage,” he said. “It is our duty to preserve and protect our history, our culture and our environment, and the public’s access to them, before they are lost forever. We have a veritable army of people, and public and private organizations dedicated to these goals.”
Much of McMaster’s speech was about successful efforts to attract business investment and what the state is doing to keep the business-growth atmosphere healthy and vigorous.
“South Carolina is a national leader in advanced manufacturing. And now we are leading the way in the new and innovative electric vehicle and battery manufacturing industry,” McMaster said. “We are home to four major electric vehicle manufacturers, major international EV battery manufacturers, the nation’s largest EV battery recycling facility, and many other industries in the electric vehicle manufacturing supply chain.”
He pointed to the SC Nexus for Advanced Resilient Energy consortium developed by the South CarOlina Department of Commerce as an investment that will pay off by making the state a destination for business.
“This consortium was developed in collaboration with our research universities, technical colleges, state agencies, the Savannah River National Laboratory, economic development non-profits, and private businesses,” he said. “It is the culmination of groundwork laid in prior years through collaborative public-private initiatives. This cooperative spirit produced our EV Working Group, a one-stop shop to recruit and assist with electric vehicle investment and manufacturing in the state.”
The Commerce Department also produced the PowerSC Energy Resources and Economic Development Interagency Working Group. This group leads the effort to coordinate the state’s energy stakeholders to ensure that we have the energy necessary to meet the needs of the future, he said.
Recently SC Nexus won the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s designation as one of the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs, which allows SC Nexus to apply for federal funding. Out of over 400 applications, South Carolina was one of 31 finalists selected.
“As a federal Tech Hub, SC Nexus will compete for federal grant funding valued between $40-$70 million annually,” McMaster said. “My executive budget includes $15 million to support SC Nexus and serve as the state “match” required for this competition. We are going to win.”
McMaster pointed to specific investments as highlights of economic recruitment in 2023.
Richland County, Scout Motors will revitalize an American brand as an all-electric, next-generation truck and SUV with a $2 billion investment and 4,000 jobs.
Chester County, Albemarle Corp. will invest $1.3 billion, with more than 300 jobs, for a lithium hydroxide processing facility.
Sumter County, e-VAC Magnetics’ investment of more than $500 million and creation of 300 jobs will produce rare earth permanent magnets which the governor said will help secure the United States’ domestic pipeline for these rare earth magnets.
Laurens County, ZF Transmissions Grey Court is expanding its operation for the growing and evolving mobility industry with a $500 million investment and 400 jobs.
York County, Pallidus is relocating its corporate headquarters and semiconductor manufacturing operations to South Carolina with a $443 million investment and 405 new jobs.
Richland County, Cirba Solutions will build a state-of-the-art flagship operation to produce lithium-ion battery materials with more than 300 new jobs and a more than $300 million investment.
Spartanburg County, Milo’s Tea Company, a family-owned beverage company, will establish operations with a $130 million investment and 103 new jobs.
McMaster recognized Secretary of Commerce Harry Lightsey and his team: “You all made the right decisions,” he said. “We boomed in 2023 and will boom again in 2024.”
The success on that front has led to challenges on another, he said.
“The demand for a trained EV workforce is outpacing the number of qualified applicants,” McMaster said. “Manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Volvo Cars and Scout Motors will need a highly specialized and trained workforce of almost 20,000 South Carolinians, and they will need them soon. To meet this demand, my executive budget recommends $50 million to create specialized EV training institutes at our technical college campuses.”
What the workforce does not need, the governor insisted, is help from labor organizers.
“One thing we do not need is more labor unions,” he said. “We have gotten where we are without them, and we do not need them now. … We have worked hard and carefully — through education, training and business recruitment — to earn our record prosperity, and we will continue to preserve and enhance it.”
He blamed unions for crippling the economies of other cities and states and, he said, with their numbers dropping unions are eyeing the prosperous Southeast for new members.
“Our aerospace, vehicle and tire manufacturers are no longer the sole targets for labor organizers,” he said. “Our thriving hospitality and tourism industry along our coast now finds itself a target. It seems that no business or employee in South Carolina is safe from the disingenuous campaigns and destructive impacts of union infiltration. No one should bargain their prosperity under threats of union boycotts or coercive pressure campaigns. We will not let our state’s economy suffer or become collateral damage as labor unions seek to consume new jobs and conscript new dues-paying members. And we will not allow the Biden administration’s pro-union policies to chip away at South Carolina’s sovereign interests. We will fight. All the way to the gates of hell. And we will win.”t