South Carolina Chamber Grassroots Tour makes a stop in the Pee Dee

South Carolina Chamber Grassroots Tour makes a stop in the Pee Dee

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce is going through the state for their 2017 Grassroots Tour to hear from business leaders in each region.

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce hosted this year's Grassroots Tour at the Southern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology.

Jack Sanders, CEO of Sonoco, opened up the discussion by explaining the goal is to establish key issues that will make up the 2018 legislative agenda.

"I realize there is still a lot of work to be done. I think some of the issues that have come up already revolve around workforce development, a comprehensive tax reform and improving rural education. So there is a lot of ideas and the concept this morning is really about you and getting you involved in the conversation," Sanders said.

The goal is to align the top industry leaders in the Pee Dee, and officials with the South Carolina Chamber believe that dialogue is ultimately the best way to find solutions the local and state level can agree upon.

"Infrastructure has been an issue the chamber has pressed for quite some time and many of you in this room had a lot to do with the passage of what I call the Comprehensive Infrastructure Bill that will create progress in this state and a move forward that I think will be significant," Sanders said.

The South Carolina Chamber President and CEO Ted Pitts said the state will ultimately prosper because of its workforce.

In talking about workforce, the topic of business licensing came up, as well as a bill that went before the legislature last year before ultimately heading back to committee.

"When we did our analysis in the city of Florence, it was going to have a $2 million negative impact on our budget," said Florence City Councilman George Jebaily. "So that is a critical issue and I don't think the members of legislature really took that into consideration."

Jebaily said lawmakers are now looking for ways to make it up, which could lead to raising property taxes.

"While you may be trying to address a problem on one hand, you might be creating another problem on the other hand," he said.

For the first time this year, it was an interactive process at each stop on the Grassroots Tour. The attendees answered questions with real data from the crowd after questions were asked, such as the biggest issue business leaders are facing in healthcare reform, energy costs or taxes.

"We will break down some data and see ultimately what affects South Carolina businesses broadly across the state and across industry lines," Pitts said.

Jebaily said he is hopeful the workforce concerns and the topic of education will be taken forward to the chamber and, in fact, the legislature.

"The business community partners with local governments and state governments, so in most cases our wishes and needs are aligned, but in some cases when it comes to taxes there are some disagreement and (we) have to work together to find a common ground," Pitts said.

The South Carolina Chamber was in the Lowcountry last week and the next stop for the Grassroots Tour will be the Upstate.

After the 19 stops are complete, chamber officials said the data will be gathered and brought to the board in December.

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