South Carolina legislators are working to create an agency that would try to grow South Carolina’s agriculture industry through tax incentives, loans, and other methods. However, that agency also faces a hazy future even if approved by lawmakers.
A bill in the House would create a new board, called the Agribusiness Economic Development Authority. The Authority would work to improve the climate for agriculture companies which, despite changing state demographics, is still one of South Carolina’s largest industries.
However, legislators say there is little in the way of federal, state, or even private assistance for projects that would benefit that industry. Rep. Dwight Loftis (R-Greenville) wants to change that with the legislation he’s proposing. Loftis said the board would help build economic developmnt projects that the private sector can’t afford.
Opportunities are out there. But there needs to be some kind of help to pull it together. The state can do that, I think, without expending a lot of dollars.
The bill has the support of legislators from mostly rural areas, notably sponsored by 19 Democrats and 9 Republicans.
The Authority would be able to make loans, borrow money, and work to finance some projects aimed at improving the state’s farm industry. At the group’s helm would be a ten-member board, led by the state Agriculture Commissioner (currently Hugh Weathers). Three members would be appointed by the governor, with six more picked by the Legislature– three from each house. The structure is standard for many state agencies.
However, with the state facing a $700 million shortfall this year, the AEDA would face a rough start– even if legislators created it. Loftis said he realizes the Authority might not go into existence until after the economy recovers. Such a conundrum currently exists with the SC Rural Infrastructure Authority, which was created last year but currently has no funding.
Some opponents of the bill question the need to create an entirely new oversight board, saying most of the projects could be handled by the state Commerce Department. Loftis explained why he wants the board under the Department of Agriculture.
It’s things that they’re already accustomed to and familiar with. It’s not that it couldn’t be in (the Dept. of) Commerce, but you do need someone with background and knowledge in this area.
Loftis said he’d like to see some sort of branch inside the Commerce Department that provides support to smaller companies in the same way as the federal Small Business Administration.
A subcommittee hearing on the bill is currently being rescheduled to give the public more time to respond.