Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt uses the analogy of South Carolina cities and towns "setting the table for company to come" when he describes what needs to be done to attract business to the state.
Hitt says businesses can look at a town and know it’s got a sense of community and is ready to welcome new business. Economic development is no different from a family holiday when relatives are visiting and you want to look your best. "You want people to come over. You spruce up for it to be ready to celebrate," he says.
Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt
Hitt says he puts in close to 2500 miles a month travelling the state and believes cities and towns are the soul of the state and a major factor in attracting business. "Companies are always interested in moving to a place that has some sense of center, some sense of self, some sense of soul. Each community really has to look inside itself and ask what makes it unique, what makes it more than a wide spot in the road. What makes people want to stop there, live there and work there."
He encourages cities and towns to look at what makes them special now. "Not what do you want to be when you grow up but what makes you special now," Hitt emphasizes. "And then try to capitalize on what’s natural about your community and, more importantly, how you can put on the freshest face you possibly can."
Often it’s downtowns that people look to first as the focal point for economic growth. However, Hitt says cities and towns must also develop inventory to be ready when companies come calling. He describes inventory as property that has water, sewer and transportation access. "Your town needs to have an industrial park of some kind ready in an area set aside for industrialization. We’ve got to set our table if we expect companies to come here."
The Department of Commerce has been very focused on developing inventory for economic development. "We have to be ready for business to come to our communities, preferably more than one, so we’re not dependent on just one industry in our towns," he says. "We have a history in our state of being one-industry towns in the past and in some cases we’re still digging out from that. It was a good model for a period of time but it’s not a good model going forward. We need diversity."
Hitt noted businesses are trying to locate here as good capitalists and take a risk to put their money down and make a profit. "They don’t come here to revitalize your downtown, they come here to make a profit," he says. "They are going to locate where they will be successful – where there’s a good cohesive labor pool, a community that would support them, low costs and inventory."
Hitt says a community needs two things to be successful. "One is payroll. We think manufacturing is the real driver on that. Once that occurs, then you get retail that lives off the payroll that is created - all which create jobs - but it all starts with the wealth-creating payroll like in manufacturing, distribution or call centers where you are performing a value added service."
In describing his travels around the state, Hitt says, "I’m really excited about what I’m seeing. I love to meet up with local folks and hear them brag about what they’ve been working on in their town. I can tell you businesses are very positive about that. They want to be where there’s a feeling of success not a feeling of desperation."
Hitt has a positive outlook for the direction of the Department of Commerce’s approach. "There’s nothing more exciting for the Department when we are able to locate a company – especially one in a small community - and put 150 or 200 people to work. We know we are changing that community."
The emotion and energy of this agency is toward creating jobs and having an impact, Hitt notes. "But we can’t do it without the cities and towns creating the inventory and the places the companies want to locate. Nothing creates momentum like successes along the way – that’s what we’re doing here. Celebrating it and talking about it."
Secretary Hitt will provide the keynote address for the 2012 Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 15.