S.C. Commerce Head Speaks to Chamber

S.C. Commerce Secretary Robert Hitt, second from left, spoke at the Blythewood Chamber breakfast meeting Tuesday. Shown with him are Mayor J. Michael Ross, left, Chamber Chairman Mike Switzer and Richland County Director of Economic Development Nelson Lindsey. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

BLYTHEWOOD – A large crowd of Blythewood Chamber of Commerce members and their guests attended the Chamber’s regular monthly breakfast meeting Tuesday to hear Robert Hitt, Director of the S.C. Department of Commerce, talk about economic development in the state. He also touched on Fairfield County and Blythewood.

Hitt told the group his department is focused on bringing jobs to all areas of South Carolina and upgrading its workforce from what was necessary for textile manufacturing jobs to what is now necessary for complex manufacturing jobs.

“We’re working in a unified fashion to do this,” Hitt said. “South Carolina is now the leading manufacturing state in the Southeast and we’re about to become the tire manufacturing capital of the world.”

Hitt said the state is also thriving in the aerospace arena with Boeing at the center of that growth.

“You need to watch what’s going to happen in the next few months,” he said, adding that, “South Carolina is positioned to become an aerospace hub because of what is going on in North Carolina and Georgia in aerospace. I expect South Carolina to grow as much in aerospace in the next 20 years as it grew in automotive in the last 20 years.”

Hitt told the group that he is particularly focused on rural areas for manufacturing growth, citing the potential for manufacturing growth in Blythewood.

“There are some folks here in Blythewood who are taking inventory (buildings ready to move into) seriously,” he said. He pointed to a recently landed TV-manufacturing plant in Fairfield County that he said was well suited to a rural area like Fairfield. He said the company was looking for a building that they could quickly upfit and move into. “We looked everywhere in the state,” Hitt said. “There were only two suitable buildings in South Carolina and one of them was in Fairfield County. But we’re running out of old buildings suitable to be updated.

“The keys to South Carolina’s future success,” Hitt said, “are logistics, an upgraded workforce and (building) inventory.”

He said infrastructure has to be improved to be able to move supplies and products quickly from plants to markets, and that the state needs to graduate more IT students to fill an increasing number of jobs requiring computer engineers. He said Boeing will probably need 500-600 computer engineers in the next five to six years.

But Hitt said two-year technical college degrees are not going to be enough going forward.

“If you graduate from Midlands Tech with a two-year degree and go to work for Boeing, they will send you to an additional 23-week training program,” Hitt said. “New hires in these jobs are going to have to have at least a three-year degree.”

The third need is for more building inventory ready to move into, like the building in Fairfield County. That building, he said, had been vacant for eight years. “They were looking for a building that was finished,” Hitt said. “Now we have only one left (in S.C.) like that.”

Hitt emphasized that cities and counties are going to have to work better together if they want to accomplish these goals.

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