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Hitt: Manufacturing growth requires infrastructure and workforce development

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South Carolina is the No. 1 exporter of cars in the U.S., with 18% of the market share, and leads the country in the export of tires, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“Our impressive roster of automotive-related companies continues to grow,” said Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt during a presentation at the S.C. Auto Summit. “Now South Carolina boasts BMW, Mercedes Benz Vans and Volvo. No other state in the country has a constellation of automotive quality like that — and there are almost 400 automotive-related companies in our state, employing some 66,000 people.”

Bobby Hitt (Photo/Teresa Cutlip)

Hitt said the state has turned into a complex advanced manufacturing economy. In an interview with GSA Business Report following his presentation, he said 11% of the state’s workforce is manufacturing and 27.3% of that is in automotive manufacturing.

“What’s really happened in the state is we’ve been able to grow the manufacturing sector,” Hitt said. “In the last six years, we’ve grown the manufacturing sector 18.5%. No other state has done anything like that. We’re the fastest growing manufacturing state in the Southeast.”

Hitt said that growth happened because the state made a point to focus on it. He said the high investment of manufacturing drives tax base and generally offers higher paying jobs.

“Manufacturing is key is to our economic growth. It’s also a wealth creator,” he said. “When I took economics in school I was told there are three ways to create wealth: One is to grow it, one is to dig it up and one is to make something. Those are the only ones that make wealth. The others are only swapping money.”

Hitt said moving forward there are two critical issues to consider: infrastructure and workforce development.

“Over the next decade, South Carolina will execute about $2 billion in logistics-related work investments in the Charleston Harbor deepening project and the building of a new terminal,” he said. “And Palmetto Railway will build a new railway system with intermodal facilities in the Lowcountry, and we will break ground in the spring on a new inland port near Dillon.”

As for workforce, “there’s no conversation that we have with a client that workforce isn’t either the first or second issue,” Hitt said. “We had no one capable of building an automobile 25 years ago. We had to make those people, and we did. Now we have to do it in a systematic way and on a much broader scale.”

Last year the legislature created the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development. Hitt said the statute requires the state’s education systems, the Department of Employment Workforce and the Department of Commerce to work together to move from a push system to a pull approach.

According to the Department of Commerce, the push approach is “what we’ve been doing — pushing students and people through the state’s education and workforce training programs as much as we can with little statewide strategy.”

“The push system has been good and worked for us, but now we’re reaching a higher level of complexity, and the need for highly trained people in some of these jobs means we need to have more of a pull approach to our education system,” Hitt said.

The pull approach, he said, is much more deliberate and strategic. With this approach, “you start with the end result in mind, and you pull the workforce through the appropriate channels to achieve that result.”

Commerce is working on a non-proprietary database that will include all the data in the state, “from the DMV, education, everything. We will know where people are and where they are in their lives. We will know where our companies are going and we will know what to tell our educators,” Hitt said.

“We need to target for our companies,” he added. “We need to be able to tell our companies where their workforce is coming from and how we’re developing that workforce.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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