Originally created 03/07/03

Commerce leader says MLK holiday controversy bad for business



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The new leader of the Commerce Department says the fight over whether or not Greenville County should officially celebrate a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is bad for business.

"Why give yourself more challenges to making deals than you have?" Commerce Secretary Bob Faith said.

Faith spoke Wednesday to reporters and editors at The Greenville News.

The fight over whether the county should celebrate the holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader continues to fester.

On Tuesday, more than 500 supporters of the holiday clashed with a few dozen others carrying Confederate flags and signs calling NAACP leaders "terrorists" at a County Council meeting.

It's the fourth meeting in a row that a large group of supporters of the holiday have shown up at a County Council meeting. A heavily divided council has failed to pass a proposal to celebrate the holiday, saying it would cost more than $100,000.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Greenville native and civil rights leader, has spearheaded the call for a holiday, attracting even more attention.

Those protests draw negative media attention to Greenville and don't help the area or South Carolina recruit new business, Faith said. "I wish it wasn't an issue," he said.

When asked about Gov. Mark Sanford's position on the holiday, spokesman Will Folks said Sanford "isn't going to micromanage local decisions from Columbia."

"Anytime there's a controversy it's going to pull a bit of your focus away from economic development," Folks said.

Both Faith and Sanford have stressed economic development and the need to increase incomes for people across the state.

Racial issues have affected the state's ability to attract new business before. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it asked DaimlerChrysler not to build a $750 million van plant in South Carolina last year.

The civil rights organization continues to call for an economic boycott of the state as long as the Confederate flag flies on Statehouse grounds.

DaimlerChrysler said the plea had no effect on their decision to build its plant in Georgia.