Harry Lightsey III has huge footwear to fill.
For the previous decade, Bobby Hitt has been South Carolina’s financial growth celebrity, touchdown main investments from tiremakers Michelin and Bridgestone, business car producer Mercedes-Benz Vans, equipment trade chief Samsung and the $1.2 billion Volvo Automobiles campus in Berkeley County. Altogether, the Commerce Division he oversaw says it recruited $43 billion in enterprise funding and 150,000 jobs throughout his tenure.
As commerce secretary, he additionally broadened the state’s efforts to deliver jobs to economically distressed areas, and was an enthusiastic proponent of bettering schooling in poor rural counties with the intention to make them extra engaging to companies — of making a virtuous cycle that includes extra jobs in locations the place they’re missing, which suggests larger incomes and better tax income to assist higher schooling, which in flip attracts extra and higher jobs.
In fact, nobody might argue that we’ve accomplished that work. It’s barely getting began, and it must be a prime precedence for Mr. Lightsey, a former AT&T govt whose resume consists of serving on the board of administrators for the Federal Reserve Financial institution in Richmond, as director of rising applied sciences coverage for Normal Motors and, extra just lately, as a principal with a Washington-based enterprise consulting group. His nationwide and worldwide connections ought to be beneficial as he recruits main companies to South Carolina, and we hope he’ll additionally use the relationships he has constructed for many years as a fixture in South Carolina’s enterprise group to develop assist for seeing public schooling as a enterprise precedence.
In some ways, Mr. Lightsey will do properly to observe the Hitt mannequin of financial growth. However not in all methods.
Mr. Hitt has had just a few blind spots involving the way in which the Commerce Division does enterprise. The previous newspaper govt was prepared to tolerate a degree of secrecy that far surpassed what state legislation allowed. And whereas his general document was spectacular, that transparency aided in protecting down criticism of the situations when the division was too beneficiant in doling out financial incentives to companies that might have situated in South Carolina with out them, and to companies that had a transparent historical past of degrading the surroundings, that had been economically unstable or each.
At a information convention Thursday the place Gov. Henry McMaster introduced his choice to succeed Mr. Hitt, Mr. Lightsey instructed reporters that “there may be the steadiness” between transparency and defending “the state’s aggressive place” and “the aggressive positions of the enterprise on this state.”
Then he pledged that “you will have my dedication to be as clear as I can with out sacrificing the aggressive pursuits of the state and its residents.”
Clearly there needs to be a steadiness; a lot of life is a balancing act. However the satan’s within the particulars, and Mr. Lightsey’s predecessor too typically acquired the main points unsuitable. What Mr. Hitt failed to grasp, and what we hope Mr. Lightsey will acknowledge, is that besides to the diploma that he decides to launch extra data than state legislation requires, the Commerce Division doesn’t get to determine the place the road is drawn between transparency on the one hand and defending his company and companies it subsidizes from public scrutiny. State legislation, in reality, dictates a minimal quantity of data that should be made public, and Mr. Hitt’s division too typically failed to satisfy that minimal.
In equity to Mr. Hitt, he didn’t invent the secrecy, or the questionable investments it may possibly disguise. He was merely doing what all of his predecessors had completed — and what administrators of too many different state and native businesses have completed and proceed to do.
Mr. Hitt additionally didn’t invent the Commerce Division’s tendency to present out beneficiant incentives to firms that probably would have situated in South Carolina with out them; the Carolina Panthers soccer workforce involves thoughts. Or its willingness to recruit firms with environmental or monetary issues; assume Viva Recycling. Or the division’s reluctance to make use of the instruments it has to claw again state incentives from companies that fail to satisfy the meager necessities they comply with meet in return for his or her taxpayer funds or tax breaks.
The Legislature might have given Mr. Lightsey an actual alternative for a contemporary begin by adopting a Senate-passed finances proviso that stripped the Commerce Division of the authority to waive these clawback provisions. Sadly, the Home refused to go alongside, so the finances invoice that lawmakers despatched to the governor on Monday doesn’t embody that restriction.
Fortuitously, the finances does nothing to forestall Mr. Lightsey from requiring firms to maintain their guarantees to our state. It does nothing to forestall him from steering away from utilizing authorities incentives to recruit polluters and companies with shaky funds to our state. And it definitely does nothing to forestall him from adopting the rule the S.C. Supreme Courtroom has suggested with regards to making public data out there to the general public: When doubtful, disclose.