July 31, 2014

Fort Jackson commander says public’s help may be needed to avoid cuts

Fort Jackson Gate 2The long-term future of Fort Jackson was discussed at a meeting of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force Tuesday, as another round of military cuts are scheduled to be made in 2017.

An Army assessment study of several base reduction scenarios, which included Fort Jackson, was completed in June. Fort Jackson commanding officer Major General Bradley Becker said the assessment was based on a worst case scenario of reducing the current permanent workforce personnel 0f 5,735 – including 2,400 civilian employees — by 3,100. Becker said such a cut would severely reduce the number of soldiers completing basic training at the base, and that in turn would cut the number of visitors to the installation.

“So instead of having 5,000 visitors a week to Columbia which we get now, based on our graduation of 45,000 soldiers a year, we would be reduced to hundreds of visitors per week,” he said.

Becker said a major reduction in visitors who come to the base for basic combat training graduations would put a huge dent in the Midlands-area economy.

“Those visitors who come every single week stay downtown, eat in the restaurants, and usually stay two days,” he said. “That is a huge impact. The Army in their assessment acknowledged that there were about 5,000 visitors per week because of basic combat training graduation, but they did not account for that economic impact.”

Becker said Fort Jackson amounts to about a $2.6 billion overall economic impact for the Midlands area.

Becker pointed to the public feedback portion of the Army’s assessment period, which ends August 15. He added that time is of the essence in getting the Midlands community energized to let the Army know how much Fort Jackson means to the community. Becker said he believes the Army looks carefully at the areas that have greatest level of resistance to reduction when they make their on-site visits.

The impending reductions could turn out to be an opportunity for Fort Jackson, as the Army could also decide to relocate basic combat training operations currently at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Benning, Georgia. Fort Jackson trains 54 percent of the soldiers that enter the Army through basic combat training and Becker said the installation is poised for expansion from a logistic and economic standpoint.

“We’ve got nine battalions now and by 2018, based on current construction projects, we’ll have the capacity for 11 battalions,” he said. “So we can actually increase capacity based on dollars that are already committed over the next several years. By next year we’ll have capacity for 10 battalions.”

Retired Major General George Goldsmith, who handles military affairs with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said Fort Jackson shares a rich heritage with the Midlands. Area businessmen donated 1,200 acres in 1917 to the then-Department of War to train soldiers at what began as Camp Jackson.

“The stipulation was that it be used as a training base. So in 1917 they began training soldiers to go into World War I,” he said. “They have trained soldiers in every war since then.”

Goldsmith said local supporters of Fort Jackson have launched a letter-writing campaign to express their support for the installation, with Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s congressional delegation also involved. A petition supporting the installation also appears on the state Department of Commerce website.


Report: SC trails in well-being of children

childrenSouth Carolina remains 45th in the nation in child well-being, according to the annual Children’s Trust “Kids Count” report.

The report also shows that poverty among South Carolina’s children has gotten worse, rising from 23 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2012. Melissa Strompolis of Kid’s Count South Carolina said educational achievement continues to lag behind as 72 percent of the state’s 4th-graders are not proficient in reading and 69 percent of 8th-graders are not proficient in math.

She said that does not bode well for the future. “Those are very concerning because with all the new and the economic boost that it seems that South Carolina is seeing, we want our children to be able to fill those jobs and contribute to South Carolina’s economy,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “But they will need the education to be able to do that.”

Kids Count is a major initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nationally, the report shows that 23 percent, or 16.4 million U.S. children, are living in poverty. That rate is up from about 19 percent in 2005.

The report reveals that 36 percent of the state’s children lived in homes where their parents lacked secure employment, an increase from 30 percent in 2008. Strompolis says living at or near poverty causes a numbers of stressors on the family and that can lead to child abuse and neglect. Strompolis said South Carolina did show some improvement in the area of health and well-being.

“We’ve had a reduction in the rates of child and teen deaths,” she said. “We’ve also seen a reduction in the number of teens giving birth, which has also been very positive for South Carolina.”

But despite the progress, Strompolis said South Carolina continues to lag near the bottom in the well-being of its children because other states are making just as much or more improvement. Strompolis says Kids Count is sharing information with counties as a call to action so that steps can be taken, at the grassroots level, to improve various environments so children can thrive and achieve.

“What Children’s Trust is working to do is to take all of this information and put it out at the county level,” she said. “So that local communities and stakeholders can take this information back to their respective counties, which will include their county data, and work to make improvements because we may see some regional variation from one county to the next.”

SC unemployment rate unchanged for second consecutive month

The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate held firm at 5.3 percent in June, reflecting no change since April.  The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce reports that an estimated 116,000 people were unemployed, showing an increase of 630 people over the month while the number of employed decreased by 847. Over the month, the labor force declined by 217 people to just under 2.2 million.

June’s seasonally adjusted, non-farm payroll employment reported its fourth seasonal employment increase this year with an increase of 4,400 over the month to reach the level of 1.9 million.

The biggest upticks in the state’s job market were in the sectors of Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Leisure and Hospitality.

Since June 2013, the state’s unemployment rate fell by 2.5 percentage points. More than 35,000 people have found work, and the labor force has decreased by 20,082 people.

Nationally, the unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent in June from 6.3 percent in May.

Boeing to conserve over 4,000 acres in Lowcountry

A Boeing aircraft in North Charleston

A Boeing aircraft in North Charleston

The Boeing Company received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to go ahead with a wetlands mitigation plan that will preserve 4,000 acres of land in the Lowcountry.

Boeing hopes to eventually develop over 400 acres of land near the Charleston airport that includes 153 acres of federally protected wetlands.  In order to get the permission to develop on that property, Boeing had to compensate by purchasing other land for conservation.

“To get the wetland permits they have to compensate for the alteration and damage they’re going to do to the wetlands there by protecting wetlands somewhere else,” South Carolina Nature Conservancy Executive Director Mark Robertson said.  “They came to different conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy and others and asked us to help them in identifying really significant, important and invaluable wetlands that they could protect.”

Boeing purchased three different tracts of land near the Francis Marion National Forest north of Charleston that totals 4,000 acres, which include 2,000 acres of wetlands. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust (LOLT) helped Boeing fund one of those tracts. LOLT will hold the property for five years before turning it over to the Department of Natural Resources for long-term ownership.

Boeing funded the other two tracts with help from The Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Nature Conservancy. They will hold the land for five years and then give management over to the U.S. Forest Service.

Robertson said this preservation effort is a good example of a way to help the economy and also protect local ecosystems.

“It’s a really good message that we can do things smartly with committed people to make sure we have both economic development and a clean and healthy environment,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

Boeing South Carolina Vice President and General Manager Jack Jones released a statement about the effort on Monday.

“This plan supports our business growth as well as our commitment to the environment and communities where we live and work,” said Jones. “It’s exciting because it ensures our ability to grow while protecting the unique natural ecosystem of this state for future generations of South Carolinians and visitors.”

Boeing officials say the conservation effort will increase the protections of land, water quality, and threatened and endangered wildlife species in the area.

Patrick Ingraham filed this report

USC economist says more investment in new business needed

South Carolina’s economy continues to be on an uptick, with the state Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) reporting the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remaining steady at 5.3 percent in May, the same as April.

Compared with the nation’s jobless rate of 6.3 percent, South Carolina continues to be ahead of the curve of recovering from the recession that began in 2008. University of South Carolina research economist Dr. Douglas Woodward says that is partly to a lower level of workforce participation, but adds the state has turned the corner indicated by significant job growth.

Woodward said to sustain the momentum of recovery, the state and nation needs more startup companies fueled by entrepreneurship. “We’re not seeing a lot of entrepreneurial activity here or across the country,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s still a very tepid economic climate. But we’re definitely not in a recession, so I think that is behind us.”

According to SCDEW figures, an estimated 36,000 South Carolina residents have secured employment since May 2013. But the overall labor force has also decreased by nearly 21,000 in the last 12 months.

Woodward said industries see the state as having a fertile economic climate. He points to the relatively rapid increase in the number of industries choosing to locate in South Carolina, coupled with the expansion of a number of existing companies. Another critical factor is a state government willing to provide incentives for businesses, which he says would include taking steps to encourage startups.

“Last year, the legislature passed a bill to help provide incentives for what they call ‘gazelles,’ these fast growing entrepreneurial oriented firms,” he said. “Over time I think that will work to put financing in place when it is needed.”

According to Forbes Magazine, Charlotte has become a major U.S. financial center, and is now the second largest banking center in the United States after New York City. Woodward pointed out that having such a financial center right at the border, can be a potential boon for South Carolina.

A week ago, three companies, Giti Tire, Lash Group and LPL Financial, announced plans to bring a combined 7,100 jobs to South Carolina’s Interstate 77 corridor between Columbia and Charlotte (although some of the Lash and LPL jobs are relocating from elsewhere in the Charlotte area). The total capital investment amounts to an estimated $800 million.