Post and Courier
July 9, 2014

Charleston Chamber unveils its state wish list

Posted: 01/08/2014 07:00 p.m.
By Robert Behre

Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has a long wish list for state lawmakers when they return to Columbia next week.

Among the top items:

Funding for an aeronautical enterprise campus at Trident Technical College.

A stronger bond between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

A property tax exemption for residential developments on military bases.

More money for roads and bridges.

For the third straight year, the chamber will have its own full-time lobbyist, Courtney Herring, during the entire legislative session. She will push for a targeted list of issues that the chamber realistically thinks can be done to help its 1,700 businesses.

Thursday night, several hundred chamber members are expected to mingle with about 100 lawmakers and other elected officials during a kick-off reception at the South Carolina Aquarium.

Chamber CEO Bryan Derreberry said the chamber didn't rank items on its legislative agenda in order of importance, but he said it's critical to find money to create Trident Tech's proposed Aeronautical Enterprise Campus.

"When you see an aeronautical cluster expanding at the rate and pace it is with Boeing, one of the top ways we'll win work in this area with future Boeing contracts is to have that skilled workforce," he said.

Herring said the Charleston chamber and other communities want South Carolina to improve its ability to avoid further military base closures. One step that would help is clarifying state law to ensure that private housing developments on military bases are not subject to state property taxes.

"The military moved a lot of their families off base during the 1980s and '90s," she said. "Now military installations want to bring families back on base," and private contractors currently are working to build and maintain new housing at bases in North Charleston, Columbia and Sumter.

"There's no fiscal impact because there's been no collections by local government so far," she added.

Herring said she also wants to work with lawmakers and College of Charleston and MUSC officials to create a comprehensive research university in the Charleston area to provide advanced degrees and to find as much new revenue as possible to address the state's $30 billion in infrastructure needs.

"Every survey you look at of relocating or expanding employers, the No. 1 item is infrastructure," Derreberry said - and its more important than labor costs, state regulations and taxes, he added. "They are highly attuned to getting products to and from their places of business and getting employees back and forth to work," he said, "so that's their No. 1 item."

Meanwhile, the chamber's political action committee also will be expanding the number of state races where it might back candidates next year. Last year, it endorsed candidates in Lowcountry municipal races for the first time.

"We're going to look at races where we think we can have an impact," Derreberry said. While Herring is not involved in that political action committee, "it allows her to have better access because we're in the game," he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.