Business leaders agree education is key to developing economic opportunities

Ted Pitts, President and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, speaks during the Grassroots Tour stop Sept. 13
at SiMT.
Photo by Melissa Rollins

By Melissa Rollins, Editor,

Though they are many issues affecting businesses in South Carolina, a skilled workforce, or the lack of one, can shape the future of the state. That was the message shared Sept. 13 as part of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce Grassroots Tour stop at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology. During the event, sponsored by the Hartsville and Florence Chambers of Commerce, participants heard about legislative priorities for the next year and gave their opinion on matters affecting their businesses.

Jack Sanders, Chair-Elect for the SC Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Sonoco, said that this meeting, and the others on the nearly two dozen-stop tour, is important for the chamber to touch base with local organizations and businesses.

“These are an important series of meetings as the state chamber travels around meeting with local chambers to understand the business issues that are critically important to local businesses,” Sanders said. “In some form or fashion that is then aggregated into the few key issues that we try to press at the state level.”

Sanders said that regardless of the organization he is serving with, he believes strongly in one thing: working together to achieve a goal.

“Those of you who know me know that I am very big on the concept of alignment, that everybody is pulling in the same direction,” Sanders said. “I spent a lot of time at Sonoco trying to drive alignment to just a very few key initiatives and this is basically that same concept.”

Participants were able to give their input using handheld clickers to vote on several polls. What these polls reveled is that workforce is a huge concern. A skilled workforce is the key to attracting and keeping industry in local communities but Darlington County Councilman Lewis Brown said that Darlington County spends a disproportionate amount of money on law and order.

“For the last twelve months I have been looking at the demographics of Darlington County,” Brown said. “I think that one thing we have to do, its essential, is looking at education going forward. The lack of education is so costly; that is something we don’t talk about. In our county budget, 55 percent of our budget goes to the Sheriff’s Department, the correctional facility or the legal side, to crime in our area. That really stems from a lack of education. One of the things I’m going to be looking for is how do we align our educational and public entities…how do we overcome this apathy toward education.”

Ted Pitts, President and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, said that Brown is exactly right about education. He also said that while funding is a problem, it is often part of a larger issue.

“There are issues there when you look at it from a funding perspective,” Pitts said. “When you break it down though…some of the inadequacies in education, the school boards have to be held accountable. For the type of environment they provide, making sure we engage students in a lot of good schools and school district across the state. I think we need to hold education leaders accountable at all levels. I think the business community has been a driver in trying to push reform. The old model of having seat time, where a kid just sits in a seat for a certain number of hours a day, that’s not working anymore. With technology we are hoping that push some of those things forward. Educational ultimately will hold this state back or it can ultimately propel the state forward.”

Author: Duane Childers

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