COLUMBIA - As a poor, agricultural state, South Carolina and its farmers struggled to make ends meet in the late 1800s. Then cotton gained steam, and by the mid-1900s fibers woven in textile mills created thousands of jobs that buoyed the state until the final decade of the past century.
Now, South Carolina is searching for a new economic identity.
The latest figures show the Palmetto State's unemployment rate at 7.1 percent, the third-highest in the nation, behind only hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.
"Economic development now is struggling to find its way," said Frank Hefner, an economist at the College of Charleston. "More of the same is not going to work because you can only get so many BMWs."
The German automaker has been held as the state's economic jewel since the company built its first North American plant in Greer in 1992.
BMW's plant formed an economic cluster creating many more jobs than initially expected, but the cluster alone can't sustain the state's economy. Officials hoped other industries would create similar domino effects, such as new missions at Savannah River Site, but those don't compare to the automotive cluster.
State Commerce Secretary Bob Faith said officials are trying to improve the overall business climate, along with traditional and nontraditional recruiting of industry.
The three research institutions - Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research; the University of South Carolina's hydrogen fuel cell technology; and the Medical University of South Carolina's biomedical research - hope innovations cause commercial development and businesses to locate nearby. So far, though, their efforts haven't proved a success.
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