Bond bill is a critical investment

Jared Sherrow, from St. Stephen, checks over turbine No. 3 at Santee Cooper's Jefferies Generating Station Friday January 18, 2008. Sherrow, then a Trident Tech student, was offered a scholarship by Santee Cooper to learn about jobs in the power industry. (Mic Smith/Staff)

When it comes to building South Carolina’s workforce, the rubber meets the road at our 16 technical colleges across the state.

Our colleges educate and train more than a quarter million South Carolinians each year. We prepare them to fill in-demand jobs and are ultimately creating a highly qualified, technically trained workforce for our state.

Our colleges are at a critical tipping point.

This administration has been remarkably successful in bringing new business and industry to South Carolina. This is great news for our state but also presents its own set of challenges. With every announcement of a new project comes the expectation of a trained, skilled workforce to meet production goals.

Meeting this ever-increasing demand is a constant challenge for our colleges. We pride ourselves on being nimble, quick and able to turn on a dime to meet the needs of South Carolina’s business and industry.

Unfortunately, this flexibility and responsiveness are jeopardized by a lack of funding on the capital improvement, equipment and operational fronts. We need help turning the tide, and this proposed bond bill provides that much-needed support.

Our colleges must maintain state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in order to stay relevant to business and industry, especially in areas such as STEM, manufacturing, information technology and healthcare. As open-enrollment institutions designed to make a quality higher education accessible to all South Carolinians, we must constantly balance maintaining the latest technology with remaining affordable for our students.

The projects included in the proposed bond bill have been carefully thought out and vetted by our colleges. They are desperately needed to help our colleges continue to meet growing workforce demands.

The bond bill is a wise business decision for South Carolina. It is an investment in more than just buildings. It is a long-term investment in the people of South Carolina enhancing their future employability by providing the right facilities to prepare them for future workforce needs.

South Carolina’s first capital improvements bond bill was in 1968. Between 1968 and 2001, South Carolina passed 26 separate bond bills — approximately one bond bill every 1.26 years. Over this 33 year period, the state demonstrated a consistent investment in construction, improvement and repair of its physical assets, including higher education campuses and facilities. It has been 14 years since our last bond bill.

The Capital Reserve Fund has served as an important resource for periodic capital maintenance, repair and improvement, but it is not a consistently reliable source for supporting our colleges’ needs.

In fact, the Capital Reserve Fund has not provided any capital funding for colleges and universities in seven of the last 15 years.

It is time to turn the tide.

The bond bill is a smart way to invest in the Palmetto State’s future. South Carolina is one of only five states that has maintained its Moody’s AAA credit rating over the last 40 years. The bond bill will not put this credit rating at risk. It will not require any additional general appropriation, and it will not raise taxes.

It will, however, help to build a more educated, more highly skilled workforce and in turn, bring jobs to South Carolina and make our state more competitive.

It is a sound investment and a good idea. Pass the bond bill.

James C. “Jimmie” Williamson, Ph.D., is president of the S.C. Technical College System.