Possible solutions: Improving economic opportunity

Vallentines Cotton Gin in Cope cleans and bales cotton from farms in a 50-mile radius of the Orangeburg County town. The gin runs 24/7 once harvest begins. Here, Hispanic workers unload a freshly baled load of cotton. The gin operator says he wanted to hire local workers but couldn't get enough for the hard, seasonal job.

Problem: A poorly educated workforce makes it difficult to lure industry. A study of the I-95 Corridor by Francis Marion University and S.C. State University noted that “the undereducated workforce is a significant brake on economic development.”

Solution: Work to improve public school education at all levels. Increase adult education opportunities through the state's technical colleges and through other public/nonprofit partnerships.

Problem: South Carolina is a major tourist industry state, but little of that commerce goes to the rural counties of the I-95 Corridor or the Mill Crescent.

Solution: Promote tourism to take advantage of the rural counties' history, environmental quality and outdoor sports opportunities, such as boating, kayaking, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing.

Promote niche tourism, such as at Walterboro's Great Swamp Sanctuary. Or create new ones, such as tours of the places in Clarendon County that played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that banned racial segregation in public schools.

Problem: The state Commerce Department routinely announces new companies that plan to come to or expand in the state, but it does not track whether the companies downsize or close.

Solution: Develop a system of tracking business closures and cutbacks. This could better enable Commerce to focus business recruitment on counties in need.

Problem: Lack of infrastructure, especially water and sewer, prevents business from considering many areas in the I-95 Corridor and Mill Crescent.

Solution: Provide more state help for rural counties with grants and low-cost loans to install water and sewer systems for industrial parks. Do the same to help them build speculation factory shells where businesses can locate. The state has programs to help counties with infrastructure development, but the vast bulk of those awards go to metropolitan counties and rural counties with substantial existing development. Consider expanding such loan programs to nonprofits with proven records of helping improve conditions in Forgotten South Carolina.

Problem: Unemployment rates in the I-95 Corridor and Mill Crescent counties remain stubbornly high. In many of these counties, it's 1-½ times the state's unemployment rate, which is among the highest in the country. And lack of assets by many rural residents prevents them from starting or expanding small businesses, a mainstay of job creation nationwide.

Solution: Business recruiters on the state and local levels should not focus mainly on bringing in medium and large manufacturing operations but should promote new and existing home-grown companies. However, many residents of Forgotten South Carolina lack assets and can't get loans to start or expand small businesses. To remedy that, the state, perhaps in partnership with private business or nonprofits, could establish a no-interest or low-interest small-loan program to provide business start-up and expansion money.

Problem: Agriculture continues to be a major component of rural South Carolina's economy, but much of the work is seasonal and increasingly requires less labor.

Solution: Promote farm-to-table farms that focus on providing seasonally available produce to restaurants and grocery stores. Expand agricultural and business training for people wanting to start such farms. Set up a state system for connecting farmers with buyers in and out of state, including regional fresh produce and meat warehouses, such as the one operating in Charleston. Provide refrigerated trucks so that farm produce can be picked up, stored at the warehouse and then trucked to restaurants and grocers. Recruit agricultural processing plants.