AIKEN - Gov. David Beasley came to Aiken on Thursday to tell constituents how his programs have made South Carolina's economy healthier.
The Republican governor announced that Aiken County had the second-highest investment statewide as South Carolina had its best economic development year ever in 1996 with $5.7 billion in new investment and nearly 26,000 new jobs created.
Last year was only the second time since 1988 the state had topped the $3 billion mark in capital investment, Mr. Beasley said. In 1995, the state had new investment of $5.4 billion.
"What this is all about is it's about people," he said during a brief press conference at Aiken Municipal Airport. "It's about opportunity. It's about quality of life. It's about the pride that comes from working for the best companies in the world."
Mr. Beasley made similar announcements in Greenville, Spartanburg and Rock Hill.
Aiken County had a 113 percent increase from 1995 with 21 firms investing $630 million and creating 713 new jobs in 1996. The previous year, the county had new investments totaling $295 million.
"The tip of the iceberg's all we've seen in Aiken County. We've got one brand-new industrial park and another one with the research park," Aiken County Councilman Jim Baggott said. "I don't know if the state will make a record next year, but I certainly think Aiken County's in a position to break this year's record."
Most of the jobs created in 1996 were "good" jobs, the governor said. The average salary statewide was $23,298, but the average salary for the new jobs was $30,211, he said.
Mr. Beasley attributed much of the state's success to the Enterprise Zone Act passed in 1995 and the Rural Development Act approved in 1996. Both bills classified nearly 90 percent of the state as enterprise zones and allowed county governments to offer tax breaks to new and existing industries.
More than $1.7 billion was invested by 420 firms in rural South Carolina in 1996, Mr. Beasley said. That led to 8,479 new jobs.
RDA and other economic development mechanisms have given South Carolina counties the tools they need to get international business, Mr. Baggott said.
"When you start dealing with industry, these guys are hard-headed business people and the bottom line is all that counts," he said. "Money talks. Everything else is superfluous."
However, the governor said there's still work to be done.
This year, he's pushing for repairing the state's road infrastructure and improving the education system, which traditionally ranks near the bottom nationally in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and overall education standards.
Mr. Beasley didn't want to give too many details about his roads plan, which will be included in his State of the State address on Wednesday.
But he said spending $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion would take care of the pending major road projects, including a $400 million bridge replacement in Charleston and an expansion of the Bobby Jones Expressway, and free up money for building rural roads.
South Carolina is looking to complete its portion of a five-lane connector that would extend Bobby Jones from just north of Bush Field to U.S. Highway 1 in North Augusta.
"If we address major infrastructure needs of this state, that frees up the general highway operating budget," Mr. Beasley said. "If you move those (major projects) off-line, that frees up money to focus in on rural infrastructure."