First the good news: South Carolina exported more goods overseas than ever last year, and a new “inland port” in Greer promises to boost those numbers even higher.
Now the sobering news: For this kind of economic growth to continue long- term, South Carolina must improve its transportation infrastructure. And the state must improve its public education system.
On the infrastructure front, it must push forward with deepening Charleston Harbor to accommodate mammoth container ships, and it must address inadequate roads and bridges across the state.
At the annual Economic Outlook Conference of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt didn’t mince words: Regions with more competitive airports and seaports are “going to get jobs.”
That is no surprise to the SPA. Its planned $25 million inland port is part of a 10-year, $1.3 billion plan to improve its facilities.
At Greer, shipping containers full of goods will be transferred between trucks and Norfolk Southern rail cars traveling to and from Charleston.
That means fewer trucks on crowded local highways, but it doesn’t ease the pressure to improve an already inadequate road system statewide.
And while the Legislature and the governor appear poised to spend more money on such infrastructure, it’s not nearly enough.
The cost of needed bridge maintenance alone is $2.9 billion over the next 20 years. The overall road-funding shortfall is 10 times that figure.
As for education, Mr. Immelt said the gap between job openings and the number of qualified applicants is growing. And he described the problem as nationwide with education rankings in math and science particularly ugly.
His support of more emphasis on identifying and teaching bankable work skills should remind South Carolina legislators how important the state’s technical college system is.
But school districts across the state need to step up their game dramatically if business and industry are to choose South Carolina to set up shop or expand.
Meanwhile, the port is laying a sound foundation for future growth:
■ Exports rose more than 2 percent in 2012, reaching a record value of $25.3 billion.
■ South Carolina ranked first in the U.S. in tire exports — handling nearly 30 percent of those exports for the second year in a row.
■ Merchandise that moved through Charleston went to 197 countries.
If it is true that as goes the port, so goes South Carolina’s economy, things appear to be looking up.
The same could be said for Charleston airport traffic, partially due to JetBlue’s new service between Charleston and New York and Boston.
But the state’s transportation infrastructure and education results still have some serious catching up to do.