Originally created 12/29/04

Leaner Commerce Department landing fat investments



COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's economic development efforts have crossed the $2.5 billion mark for the first time since 2001.

The higher numbers show the impact of several large announcements: $560 million for Vought Aircraft Industries Inc.'s parts plant in North Charleston, $175 million for a Walgreens distribution center in Anderson County and $200 million for an expansion at a Kimberly Clark tissue products plant in Aiken County.

"We have a had a great year. We've been very pleased," Commerce Secretary Bob Faith said.

The numbers, including 12,694 new jobs, are the fruit of an improving economy, Faith said.

The success also was helped by a reorganization of the state Commerce Department that slashed staff by 25 percent and flatted the agency's bureaucracy into four division instead of 14, said Will Folks, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford.

"You've got a much smaller, more efficient agency that's performing at a much higher level," Folks said.

The changes, Faith said, have made it easier for the agency to adapt to the quicker decision-making when companies are ready to expand or locate a facility.

Traditionally, those decision may have taken years, but now companies are "just a lot quicker to pull the trigger. The deal-cycle time has gone down," Faith said.

Last year, the Commerce Department reported capital investment of $764 million and 7,442 new jobs, according the agency's Web site.

A long-range assessment of recruiting is not possible, however, because numbers the Commerce Department now reports are not directly comparable to past years, Faith said.

For instance, in 2001, the state had $3.9 billion in capital investment, according to the agency's Internet site. However, those numbers included more than $1 billion in electric generation facilities that were never built and about $800 million in activity that the Commerce Department was not directly involved with, Faith said.

"They added all this investment to the year-end total that Commerce didn't have a thing to do with," Faith said.

The 2004 numbers are good news for a Cabinet agency that Sanford wanted big changes at in 2002 as he campaigned against then-Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat.

"It shows the governor's focus on economic development is paying a dividend in terms of jobs and capital investment in South Carolina. From a government standpoint, it's proof that structure matters," Folks said.

In the 2002 campaign, Sanford singled out use of a special fund at the agency that paid for golf outings, staff parties and even maid services for Faith's predecessor, Charlie Way.

Faith put that fund on hiatus in 2003. He revived it last month when he sent solicitation letters to businesses around the state with economic development interests in hopes of raising $25,000 for economic development marketing efforts.

The source of funds and their use will be made public, Faith said. There will be "no staff parties, no yachts, no maids," Faith said.

Even with that help, Commerce expects smaller numbers next year.

Faith says the agency's 2005 goal is $1.7 billion in investments and 11,000 jobs.