Haley's first Cabinet pick is for Commerce leader

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina Gov.-elect Nikki Haley on Monday picked BMW executive and former newspaper editor Bobby Hitt to lead the state Commerce Department.

Her first Cabinet pick comes four weeks after she won election to become the state's first female and first minority governor. Haley said she made her first decision to show she's focused on the economy. She will be sworn into office next month.

"Jobs and the economy had to be priority No. 1," she said. "It is a proud day for South Carolina. It's certainly a proud day for me. Get excited because this is when jobs and the economy start."

South Carolina's unemployment rate was 10.7 percent in October, down from 11 percent a month earlier, but it still has the nation's sixth-highest rate. The state's jobless rate has been above the national average throughout Gov. Mark Sanford's tenure.

Hitt would lead an agency charged with marketing South Carolina and recruiting jobs.

Hitt, 60, has been a spokesman for BMW since it opened its South Carolina plant in 1993. The Charleston native was managing editor of The State newspaper from 1987 to 1991. Between those jobs, he was a planning director for one of the state's largest law firms.

Hitt, of Simpsonville, said he will resign his post as chairman of the state Manufacturers Alliance board.

Haley said she chose Hitt from four candidates narrowed down by her transition team, which did not identify the other three.

"He is exactly what I was looking for -- someone who knows what it's like to be on the other side of the red tape," Haley said.

The state Senate must confirm Haley's choice.

Hitt would replace Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor, the former chief executive of Southland Log Homes, who has led the agency since 2006 and makes $145,000 a year.

Hitt's salary would be set by the salary review commission of the state Budget and Control Board. He said he will not return to the tradition of Taylor's predecessors, who were paid a token $1 a year.

Noting that his youngest son is in college, Hitt said, "I would like to be paid."

Profile

NAME: Robert "Bobby" Hitt III

AGE:60

PERSONAL -- Wife, Gwen; and two sons, ages 31 and 19.

EDUCATION -- Bachelor's degree in journalism, University of South Carolina, 1973; postgraduate studies in business administration at USC, 1983-86; fellow, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, 1987-88.

EXPERIENCE -- BMW spokesman since 1993; planning director for the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, 1992-93; USC journalism instructor, 1981-92; managing editor of The State newspaper of Columbia, 1987-91; managing editor of The Columbia Record, 1980-87; city editor of The Columbia Record, 1980; assistant city editor of The Columbia Record, 1978-80; state government reporter for The Columbia Record, 1974-78; reporter for The News and Courier of Charleston, 1973-74; copy editor and reporter for The State newspaper, 1971-73; advertising sales and copywriter, Charleston, 1968-71.


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