By Kari Williams
From the November/December 2023 Issue
The economy is booming in South Carolina, according to Governor Henry McMaster.
In his State of the State address in January, Gov. McMaster touted the state’s “record budget surplus” that included more than $3.5 billion in unexpected revenue.
“It should come as no surprise that 2022 was the most successful year for economic growth in our state’s history,” he said at the time.
South Carolina’s foreign direct investment nearly quadrupled in 2022 —the same year that more than 100 projects were announced, McMaster said.
“Our strategic location along the East Coast provides quick access to major markets and has allowed our world-class port system to thrive.”
— Gov. Henry McMaster
“Every day, employers are creating new jobs, entrepreneurs are opening new businesses, and companies are deciding to locate in South Carolina,” said McMaster, who has been governor since 2017.
South Carolina’s Nexus for Advanced Resilient Energy (SC Nexus) also was among the states selected in October for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs.
The state has a labor force of nearly 2.4 million, with trade, transportation, and utilities as the leading industry at 20%, according to the South Carolina Department of Commerce.
Business Facilities: Tell us about South Carolina’s business climate. What’s driving its success?
Gov. Henry McMaster: South Carolina is booming. We have more people working now than at any time in our state’s history, record-high wages, and an unemployment rate nearly a full point lower than the national average.
Our state government is in the best fiscal condition in modern history, allowing us to make record-breaking tax cuts and invest heavily in our infrastructure and workforce. These factors, combined with a favorable regulatory climate and business-first approach, make South Carolina the best place in the country to do business.
The numbers speak for themselves: since my administration took office, we’ve shattered economic development records with over 83,000 new jobs announced and $34 billion in new capital investment. There has never been a better time to live, work, and raise a family in South Carolina, and the world is taking notice.
BF: South Carolina has made several announcements in the past few months of business expansions or new businesses coming to the state. What do you attribute to that?
Gov. McMaster: 2022 was the most successful year for economic development in our state’s history, with the record for the largest capital investment project broken twice in the same year. We announced 120 projects which will create over 14,000 new jobs with $10.27 billion in new capital investment.
This is almost two-and-a-half times as much as 2021. This includes the single largest announcement in the history of South Carolina—Redwood Materials—at $3.5 billion and 1,500 new jobs; $1.7 billion invested by BMW for the manufacturing of electric vehicles and battery assemblies; and Envision AESC investing $810 million to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. We have carried this momentum into 2023 with Scout Motors’ $2 billion investment and creation of 4,000 or more new jobs.
Our success can be attributed to several factors. Our strategic location along the East Coast provides quick access to major markets and has allowed our world-class port system to thrive. The Port of Charleston is one of the nation’s fastest growing container ports and now boasts the title of deepest harbor on the East Coast, allowing the largest ships in the world to come in any day, any time, and at any tide. But the No. 1 reason businesses tell me they invest in South Carolina is our people. South Carolinians are hardworking and have been highly trained at our research universities and world-renowned technical college system.
BF: SC Nexus received the U.S. Department of Commerce’s EDA designation as one of 31 Regional Tech Hubs. What’s the significance of that for South Carolina?
Gov. McMaster: South Carolina is unique from anywhere else in the country due to our willingness to work together, and there is no better example of that than SC Nexus. SC Nexus is a public and private consortium led by S.C. Commerce that consists of more than 35 members representing higher education institutions, technical colleges, numerous state agencies, the Savannah River National Laboratory, economic development alliances, community organizations, nonprofits and private companies, including electric utilities working on the consortium’s selected technology focus area—expanding Advanced Energy Resiliency.
Of the 31 Tech Hubs nationwide, SC Nexus is one of the five focusing on the technology area of accelerating the U.S.’ energy transition. This elite designation puts South Carolina on the national stage, where our efforts around advanced resilient energy have the potential to impact not just the lives of our citizens but to bolster national security and lead global technological advancements.
BF: What are South Carolina’s target industries at the moment?
Gov. McMaster: In the last year, we have focused our efforts on the recruitment of electric-vehicle-related businesses. Since BMW first decided to locate here in 1992, South Carolina has become known as one of the top auto manufacturing states in the country.
Back then, we had virtually no automotive workers, but as other companies recognized BMW’s success and the quality of our workforce, they followed. Today, we are home to over 75,000 autoworkers, and the industry has a $27 billion economic impact on our state. We have proven to be a state where the auto industry can thrive, and as the industry continues to innovate and move toward electrification, South Carolina is ready to adapt to ensure that the investment and jobs that come with it stay here.
BF: What incentives and other programs are being emphasized to encourage retention of businesses and encourage others to come to the state?
Gov. McMaster: South Carolina offers an array of incentives to help businesses hold down operating costs and increase their return on investment. Through the S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development, South Carolina offers performance-based tax incentives that reward companies for job creation and investment, as well as discretionary grants that can support infrastructure, site improvement or product development. Companies in South Carolina also benefit from statutory tax incentives including no state property tax; no inventory tax; no sales tax on manufacturing machinery, industrial power, or materials for finished products; no local income tax; and a favorable corporate income tax structure.
BF: What are the key issues facing the state in terms of business development?
Gov. McMaster: With tens of thousands of new jobs flowing into South Carolina, many in cutting-edge industries, we must ensure that our workforce is properly trained to take on these new jobs. To address this, we are making bold investments in our nationally recognized workforce development programs, ensuring that our people have access to affordable degrees or trade certificates. Our leading workforce development program is Workforce Scholarships for the Future. This program provides full scholarships to cover the cost of tuition and required fees at any technical college for an adult or recent high school graduate pursuing an industry credential or associate degree in a high-demand career.
BF: What else would you like site selectors to know about South Carolina’s business climate?
Sage Automotive Interiors is investing $10.45 million to expand one of its South Carolina locations, creating 95 jobs in the process. Read more…
Gov. McMaster: Indicative of South Carolina’s team-first approach, I’m particularly proud of our state leaders’ willingness to not only be responsive to our private sector partners’ needs, but to have the foresight to proactively address predicted hurdles. For example, over the past year, I’ve organized working groups to study South Carolina’s power generation capacity, to keep energy costs low and ensure our employers and citizens alike will not be left in the dark.
Similarly in the past year, in conjunction with the United Kingdom Consuls General, I issued an executive order to strengthen global ties and establish advanced research and development opportunities with a key international ally. South Carolina is committed to creating solutions, and we are harnessing innovation and collaboration to bring them to reality.