SC Chamber CEO Talks State's Top Priorities at September Breakfast

September 9, 2015 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

Tedd Pitts at September Breakfast Meeting

South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Pitts addressed the crowd at the Greater Lexington Chamber’s monthly breakfast Tuesday morning and discussed the State Chamber’s top priorities for the year.

Pitts started by taking a step back in time to a meeting several years ago with Otis Rawl, who was leading the SC Chamber at the time.

“We opened a time capsule from 2002, and one of the things our communications director pulled out was the 2003 competitiveness agenda. What was the number one issue? Infrastructure. Still number one,” Pitts said. “It was an issue then, and it’s still an issue today. It has not been addressed. The second thing on that 2003 agenda was work force.”

Infrastructure and work force are the two issues the State Chamber has chosen to focus on this year, and they are definite areas of need and have been for a long time, according to Pitts.

“We can’t continue to allow our infrastructure to crumble beneath us, because it’s an item that if you don’t invest in to maintain, it costs ten times more to reconstruct,” Pitts said.

Tedd Pitts at September Breakfast Meeting

Pitts used Michelin as an example, pointing out the fact that the company has indicated it will not continue to look at SC for a place to expand unless something is done about the infrastructure. He also cited state companies losing millions of dollars due to poor roads. One example is a business having to use less efficient trucking routes because of load-restricted bridges. Trucks can also be damaged due to poor road conditions, costing companies additional money in repairs and maintenance.

One of the primary issues with funding infrastructure maintenance and improvements will be how to generate the money.

“Infrastructure it’s an issue, because at the end of the day, we’re talking about taxes. Whether you’re straight up raising taxes or you’re raising taxes and offsetting it with an income tax reduction. It’s an issue that has to be debated,” Pitts said.

The State Chamber has indicated it wants to see at least an additional $600 million in new revenue going to roads. That could mean existing revenue streams that come out of the budget from another area. It doesn’t all have to be completely new revenue. Pitts also mentioned the importance of diversifying the revenue stream. The SC Chamber supports marrying two issues together – raising the gas tax or sales tax on automobiles along with an income tax reduction or some tax relief.

The SC state system is the third largest per capita in the country, according to Pitts. He believes the state government has to work with local governments to figure out how to move roads from the state system down to the local system. The reality is some of those roads the state is never going to touch, or never going to do anything more than fill a pothole. There’s not enough revenue to do anything else with those less-traveled roads. The state system simply has to be made smaller.

“There has to be some component of tax relief to get us where we need to be,” he said. “Infrastructure is first up when the State Senate comes back in January. We’re hopeful they’ll be able to get a bill passed.”

Pitts also talked about some of the work force issues he hears about from business leaders across the state.

“When I meet with CEOs at businesses around the state, big and small, they talk about work force issues – people that report to work on time, people that can pass that initial drug screening test,” said Pitts, who indicated work force will probably be on the agenda every year.

Business owners have indicated a common issue with today’s workers’ soft skills. This is the ability to interact with customers or the ability to work with co-workers. These skills affect the bottom line in their businesses. And the skills aren’t improving. In fact, they’re on the decline.

Tedd Pitts at September Breakfast Meeting

The questions and concerns made by your fellow members. If you missed the breakfast but still have a question for Ted Pitts, email it to randy@lexingtonsc.org.

The SC Chamber is also involved with business licensing fees.

“We heard a lot from our Small Business Council, saying business license fees are cumbersome and burdensome,” Pitts said.

Pitts talked about one case involving a businessman who has to get 41 business license fees. That’s 41 different forms. The same businessman is also in about 20 different classifications, depending on what municipality he’s operating in. He has to have an employee almost solely responsible for making sure the business is in compliance with the business license fees.

“We need to reform that system to make it more business friendly while protecting local governments and their revenue,” he said.

Pitts also addressed the Confederate flag issue, and how it was handled by the legislature.

“After the tragedy in Charleston, everybody was looking at that issue. It was something that had to be addressed, and it had to be addressed quickly,” he said. “I give our General Assembly credit. They locked down, and they did what needed to be done, and they dealt with the issue. And they did it in a respectful manner.”

Pitts also touched on several other issues, including the Chamber’s investment in schools and why that’s important. He also talked about the Ready SC funds that help train employees for new industry coming into the state, and the importance of training workers for SC’s existing industry.

He also indicated the State Chamber is advocating for a shorter legislative session, which in theory would give business owners a better opportunity to serve in that capacity. He used Georgia as an example, because that state has a 40-day session, compared to our state’s much longer session, which makes it almost impossible for business owners to serve.

The breakfast was sponsored by Trio IP and catered by Crescent Moon Restaurant.