In response to budget woes, the state agency charged with recruiting new employers is cutting back as South Carolina struggles to lower its near-record-high jobless rate.

The S.C. Department of Commerce, which has about 75 employees, has had to trim its payroll, reduce travel expenses and reduce its office space. Also, its top official, Joe Taylor, has volunteered to reduce his $152,000 paycheck by 20 percent to $121,600.

In a memo issued this month, the agency said it laid off four workers, its first staff cuts since the recession began in late 2007.

Three of positions were in the community and business services group, which offers rural planning advice, meets with small-business owners and checks in on newly recruited companies, said Commerce spokeswoman Kara Borie. One position was in the research division.

"We're currently working harder to produce more with less," Borie said Thursday.

In the memo, Commerce said it believed its 69.4 percent budget cut over the past two years is the most severe of any state agency. At the same time, the department has taken on additional responsibilities, it said.

Taylor was not the only department official to reduce his salary. David Logsdon, chief operating officer at Commerce, also volunteered to take a 20 percent pay cut. His salary was not available.

Borie said the cost-saving measures haven't hurt the department's efforts to recruit jobs to South Carolina, where the unemployment rate has been slipping in recent months but remains among the highest in the nation. In April, the state's jobless figure was 11.6 percent.

Borie noted that Commerce has closed 36 percent more economic development deals this year compared to last year. "It's more about maximizing efficiency, like sending one project manager to a trade show instead of two," she said.

Among other cost-cutting measure, the department has stopped offering foreign trade trips.

It renegotiated the lease for its Columbia office, reducing its space from about 2 1/2 floors to 1 1/2 floors.

Commerce's landlord also agreed to pay for the reconfiguration of the office, Borie said.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or