If There’s Economic Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go!

By Barney Blakeney   

I cut hooky from church again last Sunday trying to fight off a cold. Seems a bug’s going around. It gave me a chance to catch some of the Sunday morning ETV shows I usually miss. One was Carolina Business Review. I can’t remember the host’s name, Chris William I think, but he usually has some interesting guests, mostly from North Carolina, talking about issues that impact business in the Carolinas. Usually very interesting stuff.

Sunday there was a guy, John Skvarla of Pruet Nexsen, LLC who seemed really practical in his approach to local business. I googled the guy (Google is a heckuva tool if I ever learn to use it), apparently Skvarla’s a former North Carolina state Secretary of Commerce now working for the Nexsen Pruet law firm. Okay, I’m no business writer. I’m just a guy with a passion for my community who likes writing, found a niche in the news business and somehow figured I could make a difference using the talent to make a contribution. It’s a great job. I have fun and I get to write about stuff I watch on TV.

So it’s near the end of the program when I tune in and I’m listening to these guys talk about business in the Carolinas. Skvarla said our region has resources we could use to develop an even more progressive and productive business environment, but we’re underutilizing those resources. Because I tuned into the program late, I had no idea what resources Skvarla was talking about. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what he was saying.

For one thing, South Carolina has tremendous human resources. One of the guests noted that in rural areas in our region, that human resource is vastly underutilized. Sen. Margie Bright Mathews has her hands full picking up the slack after the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s death.  Bright Matthews inherited four or five of the state’s poorest counties that include Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. Getting industry to locate in her district must be a most challenging task.

A friend of mine drives from Yemesee to Hilton Head every day to work in the tourism industry. And a few years ago, I met a young woman who drives from her home in Hampton County to North Charleston to work for a state agency with offices there. It’s one thing to commute to get a better job. It’s quite another thing to commute just to get a job!

After my freshman year in college, I came home that summer looking for work. Couldn’t find anything I wanted. So I’m sitting at home every day when my mom said there was no way I was going to lay around without a job because I couldn’t find something I wanted to do. She called her brother in Kingstree and told him to find something for me. So off the Kingstree I went to work in a tobacco packing house. Hardest work I’ve ever done! 7AM to 4PM, filling barrels with tobacco and stacking them on trucks headed to North Carolina. Can’t remember what we were paid, but it wasn’t much.

The guy we worked for cheated us. We were good and got trucks loaded in record time. He only needed one a day, so he let us go home after loading the first truck. I figured we’d get paid for the rest of the day. We weren’t. I protested and asked my co-workers to challenge the guy. They refused saying, “Charleston (they called me Charleston), you can go back home and find another job. We have to live here.”

It would be years before I understood that lesson. When people have few options, they’re often forced to make choices that may seem irrational to someone else. I came home, got a job stacking ammunition at some warehouse of East Bay Street. I also delivered samples of toilet paper door to door throughout the area for some marketing firm. Those jobs weren’t great options for better opportunities, but they were better opportunities. The guys back in Kingstree didn’t have those options.

One of the guests on Carolina Business Review Sunday said one challenge for our region is to find ways to better utilize the resources that exist here. We need business and political leaders with vision – people who can see the potential that exists in areas like Bright Matthews’ Senate District 45 and find ways to realize that potential. I’m sure Bright Matthews is acutely aware of the potential in her district. As with her predecessor, I’m also sure she’s handcuffed to political and business leaders who may not share her vision of developing that potential. With the I-95 corridor providing an easily accessible transportation route for industry, I’m stumped to figure why more industry doesn’t exist in the ‘Corridor of Shame’.

Perhaps Charleston Rep. David Mack says it best when he admonishes voters to use their votes more wisely. The good ole boy system isn’t Black or white – it’s us and them! Despite all the economic activity ongoing in our region, many of us still don’t benefit. Certainly far too few Black folks benefit. But white folks are getting screwed also!

I recently got the new tuition rates for The Citadel. Next year it will cost a freshman about $30,000 to attend the school that produces many of our community’s leadership. An upperclassman will pay about $25,000. Who can afford that? None but the rich and famous! Again, it’s not about Black and white – it’s about the haves and the have nots. All of us are getting fleeced by the ruling class. Pay ‘taintion, people!

One of the guys on Carolina Business Review said economics should be agnostic – it’s not about Republicans or Democrats, Black folks or white folks – -economics should be about collective prosperity.

We must develop and establish leadership with the vision to see that.

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