By Hank Hyatt, senior vice president of economic competitiveness, and Jason Zacher, senior vice president of business advocacy, Greenville Chamber of Commerce
The Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin metro area was recently rated one of the top places in America to work in manufacturing. That is not by accident. South Carolina worked hard to diversify our manufacturing base.
We make things here. The data show that.
According to the U.S. Census County Business Patterns program, in 2015, 886 manufacturing establishments employed more than 50,000 individuals in our metro region. This is by far the largest sector of employment for the region. The next largest sector for the metro was health care with approximately 40,000 employees. One out of every $5 paid out in payroll comes from the manufacturing sector.
Ensuring our manufacturing industry has the business conditions to thrive is also not an accident. The Greenville Chamber and the Upstate Chamber Coalition work closely with the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance and our regional economic developers to ensure government stays out of the way of our thriving manufacturing businesses.
In 2018, there are a number of issues we will tackle in conjunction with our partners across our state.
- Nuisance Lawsuit Protections: Many of our industrial facilities were built along rural roads in the 1970s through the 1990s. However, Greenville is the fastest-growing city east of Texas, and our explosive growth along the Interstate 85 corridor means these rural facilities increasingly have homes as neighbors. Manufacturing facilities come with light, noise, and odors as byproducts of the goods made and the jobs created.
The South Carolina Manufacturing Liability Protection Act will ensure that existing permitted operations are protected from lawsuits by codifying the “coming to the nuisance” defense that is in existing common law. The bill is modeled after the Right to Farm Act – similar protections passed for agriculture several years ago. It is meant to decrease frivolous litigation, minimize legal expenses, and create more certainty for homeowners and manufacturers. This legislation was approved by the state House in 2017 and is currently in the state Senate.
- Automatic Stays: A second piece of legislation we are working on will provide a timeline to move anti-development lawsuits forward. Under current law, there is no timeline for when the Administrative Law Court must hold a hearing for a plaintiff to show cause for injunctive relief to stop a development project in contested cases. This means that economically beneficial development projects can be halted indefinitely, effectively killing the project. In an area like the Upstate that has experienced exponential growth in the past decade, this practice can be harmful to future development.
Our legislation sets a time limit on automatic stays of 30 days. With this timeline, it is hoped that plaintiffs will file cases only of legitimate concern rather than try to stop every new development project. This bill does not prevent an individual from contesting development projects, but simply ensures those suits show cause and are not dragged on indefinitely.
- Workforce Expansion: These two lawsuit abuse reform issues stack on top of numerous workforce initiatives the chamber is working on to expand our workforce, most notably our expungement reform for low-level, nonviolent offenders. This legislation passed the House without a dissenting vote in 2017 and is currently on the Senate floor. As businesses in all sectors are scrambling to find people to fill critical jobs, bringing these folks back into the workforce is key to expanding our regional economy. This legislation provides protections for employers and ensures ex-offenders have clean records since their offense.
In addition to working in Columbia on state-level issues, the Greenville Chamber has hired a director of workforce and talent solutions to work on closing the workforce gap. This individual will be working with local employers, education and training institutions, community-based organizations, and other partners to craft solutions to alleviate the talent shortage. Funded through Accelerate, the Greenville Chamber’s private-sector-fueled economic development initiative, the director will bring focused attention and resources on a critical issue cited by manufacturers across the board.
2017 was a very strong year for manufacturing, for the Greenville region, and for the Greenville Chamber. We encourage our investors and other stakeholders to become engaged in helping us make 2018 an even stronger year. Let’s do something that matters today.