Bobby Hitt, BMW exec gets new role

Bobby Hitt

COLUMBIA -- Bobby Hitt, the man named Monday to become the state's next top salesman, knows the ins and outs of the state's business scene.

For nearly two decades, he has navigated the South Carolina ports, served on the company side of incentive negotiations with the state's last five commerce secretaries, and played a key role in one of the state's biggest business success stories.

Now, Hitt, a one-time newspaperman who went on to become "the face of BMW," will lead the Department of Commerce as the state tries to recover from the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Gov.-elect Nikki Haley on Monday said she selected Hitt, 60, because the two share a sense of urgency, given the state's 10.7 percent unemployment rate, and an emphasis on supporting the state's small businesses. Hitt is Haley's first Cabinet appointment.

"He is exactly what I was looking for," Haley said. "He knows what it's like to be on the other side of the red tape."

Hitt, of Simpsonville, served as corporate affairs manager for BMW since 1993 and is chairman of the state's Manufacturers Alliance. He is also a former managing editor for The State newspaper.

Hitt said he has been involved in all of the negotiations between the state and BMW, one of the South Carolina's biggest economic boons. In that role, he has worked with the state's last five commerce secretaries. Hitt said South Carolina is well poised for business development opportunities.

"Everyone who wants to work should have a job," Hitt said.

Hitt will replace outgoing Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor, who announced that he would step down when Gov. Mark Sanford's term is up. Taylor earns $144,746. Hitt's salary will be determined by a state panel after the Senate confirms his appointment in January.

Hitt said he does not expect to make wholesale changes at the Commerce Department, but will assess the agency when he starts on the job first thing next year.

Haley's selection of Hitt drew high praise from the business community and politicians. The state's most influential lawmakers House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, both Charleston Republicans, agreed that Hitt is the right choice to lead economic development at this time.

Harrell said one of Hitt's strengths is the fact that he is a native South Carolinian, born in Charleston, who understands the state's needs when it comes to economic development.

McConnell said Hitt's knowledge of the State Ports Authority is vital to attracting industry.

"He understands that the port has got to be user-friendly," McConnell said.

Lewis F. Gossett, president and chief executive of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, said he had "mixed emotions" because Hitt will have to step down as chairman of his Columbia-based trade association.

Gossett said the longtime BMW executive won't have "much of a learning curve" once he takes office.

"Bobby understands economic development," he said. "He has a lot of respect from and credibility with the players in that world."

Quotable

"Bobby and I have worked closely on a number of issues, and he understands the opportunities and challenges facing businesses interested in expanding in South Carolina and those considering locating in the Palmetto State."

"I look forward to working with him to help grow South Carolina's economy and bring more jobs into our state."

"It's a strong message to send to the manufacturing community."

"Superb choice."

"As our secretary of Commerce, Bobby can sell the South Carolina story -- a right-to-work state with low taxes and a world-class workforce -- to business interests here in the United States and around the globe."

John McDermott contributed to this report. Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.