Representatives from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce held a meeting at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College with local business leaders on Sept. 5 as part of a statewide tour intended to listen to the businesses' concerns.
The Grassroots Tour is part of the South Carolina Chamber Alliance Partnership that connects the state, regional and local chambers of commerce and their members.
The feedback received from the meetings will help shape the 2018 Competitiveness Agenda, which lays out the state chamber’s priorities for next year’s legislative session.
Ted Pitts, S.C. chamber president, said in the past year several goals were accomplished, including filling the workforce pipeline and the state Legislature passing the gas tax bill to repair the state’s roads and bridges.
The infrastructure bill will be able to provide “a sustainable, recurring, diversified revenue stream at DOT,” Pitts said. “We’re not going to get out of that situation in the long term, but it provides a sustainable revenue that helps us start working on that problem.”
He said the chamber failed in “cutting the red tape on business licensing.”
A hot-button issue locally is Orangeburg County Council’s passage of a business license ordinance. The license will place a fee on the annual gross income of entities doing business within the county.
Pitts said Orangeburg had a competitive advantage by not having the license as “businesses make decisions on where taxes are the lowest.”
The license will be an added burden on businesses, he said.
“What you’ve done to businesses in Orangeburg, you’ve just added another business license, another tax-compliance thing that they have to now do when they (council) had a means and property taxes where they could generate revenue if they actually need it,” Pitts said.
He said areas in South Carolina such as Summerville might have as many as 30 business licenses.
“That’s 30 different expiration dates, that’s 30 different rate classes, that’s a problem,” Pitts said. “It’s one of the most business-unfriendly things we do in the state.”
Moving forward, the state chamber wants to work on a system to standardize this licensing process for businesses.
Pitts said the chamber would work with the S.C. Municipal Association to create a process that doesn’t negatively impact local governments and also provides businesses a more business-friendly option.
“A victory for the business community would be able to have an apples-to-apples system where you go one place and you can apply for all your business licenses, you can pay the bill in one place and it’s distributed,” he said.
During the meeting, audience members were given electronic clickers to vote on issues they felt were most pressing to Orangeburg businesses.
Taxes received some of the most votes. These included property taxes, which received the most, then business license taxes and finally income taxes.
Pitts said South Carolina has the highest manufacturing property taxes in the country.
“South Carolina’s at the wrong end of that list, we’re No. 1,” he said.
Commercial property taxes are the eighth highest, and at 7 percent, the income tax rate is the 41st highest.
Overall tax climate in South Carolina is ranked as the 36th worst by the Tax Foundation and 42nd worst by the American Legislative Exchange Council Annual Report.
Holly Hill Mayor William Johnson said an issue he would like to see fixed is the amount of litter and dilapidated buildings.
“We’ve really got to clean up our state,” Johnson said.
He referenced a statement by former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, who “reminded us how dirty our trash and everything was.”
Palmetto Pride, the state's anti-litter organization, was formed shortly after, Pitts said.
“It really is an initiative that has to start at the community level,” he said.
Gene Gartman said an issue for him is workers’ compensation.
“I think general and professional liability is reasonably priced but workers’ comp insurance can be all over the map,” Gartman said. “I think that they need to look at these workers’ comp prices in our state to make it more affordable for our businesses to hire employees.”
Pitts said the chamber would take the matter under consideration.
“If we ever want to be the state that we want to be, we’re going to have to work together,” Johnson said to close the meeting.
The meeting was sponsored by Mikee Johnson and Cox Industries in conjunction with the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce and the Tri-Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The state chamber will make 19 stops throughout the state during the months of September and October.