The S.C. Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2018 Competitiveness Agenda earlier this week at the Statehouse, with an emphasis on workforce development and tax reform.
Chamber President Ted Pitts presented issues he said the business community wants the General Assembly to address in the upcoming legislative session.
“Surveys with our members have given us a clear picture of what the business community in South Carolina truly wants to see,” Pitts said. “These things would make South Carolina more competitive for business.”
Jack Sanders, president and CEO of Sonoco in Hartsville and chairman of the chamber board, said two items the chamber considers critical are tax reform and workforce development.
The chamber wants lower property taxes for businesses and a reduced income tax burden on the state’s workforce.
According to the chamber report, South Carolina is home to some of the highest commercial and manufacturing tax rates in the nation, with an individual income tax rate of 7% for those who make approximately $15,000. Sanders said rates need to be brought in line with those in other Southeast states.
“At Sonoco, the federal tax change resulted in reduced tax to the company,” Sanders said. “We have chosen to invest that money in capital and technology to improve the performance of the business.”
Looking at workforce development, Sanders said it was important to fill the education-to-work pipeline by increasing apprenticeships for skilled labor. He said South Carolina must also become the choice for military veterans leaving the service to start a second career.
The chamber proposed exempting military retirement benefits from taxation, an idea also advocated by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in the 2018-19 executive budget released earlier this week.
Sanders said nontraditional paths to employment also need attention, such as recognizing and training high school students who do not plan to attend college after graduation. He also said nonviolent ex-offenders should be integrated into the workforce.
The chamber agenda also called for a focus on the development of soft skills such as teamwork and communication for students and an addressing of the state’s prescription drug and opioid epidemic.
Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy, chair-elect of the chamber board, said the state is overdue for tax reform.
“Personal income taxes are higher than Georgia and North Carolina, which places an undue burden on employers,” Kennedy said. “We recently moved our headquarters from Florida and were offered an economic incentive package, but property tax in Florida was only 2%, so in the end we didn’t gain anything, just shifted the focus. As a person who owns a business, we want our money to stay in the state, and we suggest a cap on high income taxation as a competitive idea.”
Mike Williams, facility personnel manager at Michelin North America, said workforce development is a top priority, made more so by the impending retirement of a large number of baby boomers. Tim Norwood of Bistro Holdings, a member of the chamber board, emphasized the importance of the more than 400,000 S.C. small businesses to the state’s economy.