Gov. Henry McMaster and other state leaders on Tuesday celebrated the success of South Carolina’s manufacturing industry, which has so far been able to weather the economic weight of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
A new study released Tuesday from nonprofit S.C. Future Makers and the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance said the current economic impact of the industry on the state is $206 billion a year, representing about 703,000 direct and indirect jobs. Tax revenue from manufacturing accounts for about 38% of the state’s annual general fund budget, the report said.
Unlike other states, South Carolina “never closed,” said McMaster, repeating a familiar line he has used throughout the pandemic. “They closed churches. They closed businesses, and many of them are still closed. And that’s not the way we did it.”
But with the success, Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist with the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, also issued a small warning in his analysis of the report: The state needs to ensure it is keeping up with the needed highly-skilled workforce to meet the demand and advancements in manufacturing.
Education in the state, he said, must keep up with the evolving needs of manufacturing.
“From a workforce standpoint, it basically means that we’re seeing more requirements for workers in terms of post-secondary education and more experience,” Von Nessen said. “More broadly, as we look ahead over the next decade, there are several, several changes that are coming. We don’t know exactly what they’ll look like. One prominent one that we hear talked about a lot is the transition toward electric vehicles and what that implies for the supply chain changes for manufacturing.”
Subsequently, President Joe Biden visited South Carolina — virtually, that is — to promote his infrastructure plan and, more specifically, to explain how his American Jobs Plan will reduce transit and school buses emissions to zero by 2030.
The president planned to virtually tour Greenville’s electric bus maker Proterra on Tuesday afternoon, as he aims to build up nationwide support for his infrastructure plan, the White House said on Monday.
Proterra was one of the first manufacturers of electric buses and is supplying batteries and other items for electric school buses.
The American Jobs Plan includes about $45 billion to speed up the Biden administration’s goal of reaching zero emissions for transit and school buses by 2030, the White House said.
Soon after his inauguration in January, Biden signed a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling the country’s reliance on fossil-fuels.
Among his directives was an order to move the country to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet and shift car sales to electric.
“We can’t wait any longer” to address the worsening climate crisis, Biden said then. ”We see with our own eyes. We know it in our bones. It is time to act.”
But some critics have feared that a total overhaul of the nation’s vehicle fleet could cost American jobs.
If more people drive electric vehicles, that means fewer gas-powered ones and 30% to 40% fewer auto parts, the Associated Press reported. With fewer parts, that means simpler construction, which also could mean fewer people needed to assemble cars.
South Carolina hopped on the electric fleet train years ago.
Many companies and automakers in the state have embraced it, and so, too, have lawmakers, who have considered legislation to expand its reach to consumers.
This month, McMaster and other state leaders announced plans to spend $23 million out of South Carolina’s $34 million Volkswagen settlement account to replace part of the state’s aging bus fleet. The spending includes the purchase of three electric transit buses for the Charleston and Florence areas.
One of those buses will be built by Proterra, the Governor’s Office said.
“This is an important step toward cleaner, safer transportation for South Carolina,”state Insurance Director Ray Farmer said in a statement this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.