USC study provides the answers wanted

Last week, yet another publicly funded study was unveiled in Columbia, this one by the University of South Carolina on business and employment.

The story that appeared in The State, like the study itself, left one with more questions than answers.

For instance, there was no indication of what the cost of the study was or who paid for it.

For that information, you’d have to turn to the article written by my colleague at The Nerve, Eric Ward. Ward reported Tuesday that the study cost $55,000 and that the partners in the study included the S.C. Department of Commerce, New Carolina and the CTC Public Benefit Corporation.

Nearly three-fourths of the $55,000 came from public sources, Ward reported.

Some $27,000 came from a federal grant while $13,000 came from matching funds from S.C. Research Authority affiliate SC Launch. SC Launch receives $6 million annually in state support by way of tax credits for contributions to the entity. The S.C. Research Authority is a state-created and state-controlled technology and real estate development/management firm.

New Carolina also gets a good portion of money from public entities.

But that wasn’t disclosed to readers of The State.

What was also perplexing were the following comments from USC economist Doug Woodward that was included in the article.

‘We do a good job with small business development, with the incubation phase, the early entrepreneurial phase,’ he said.

Likewise, the state has done well in attracting large employers, including businesses such as Amazon.com and Boeing, Woodward said.

Unmentioned was the fact that the state of South Carolina threw, combined, literally hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives at Boeing and Amazon.com.

Is this really what Woodward considers a success story? South Carolina could probably get a small island nation to relocate its capital to the Palmetto State for enough money. That doesn’t mean it should be counted as a success story.

Of course, since Woodward works for the university, which was paid to do the study, perhaps it’s not surprising that he’d try and slip in the occasional non-sequitur to make things look better than they really are.

But one would expect The State to catch the inherent lack of logic and point it out, rather than merely parroting the university’s talking points.

There are any number of other things fishy with the study, including that it only included the years 2004 through 2008, and that it made mention just once of incentives, and then it was to cast doubts on the overall usefulness of economic incentives to lure companies to the state.

Another big question which went unanswered was why was the study done at all?

Ward reported that Powers, the CTC economic development director, said the study was meant to provide information, not policy recommendations.

But, in what is hardly a surprise, the Department of Commerce is already acting to establish a “small business portal.”

“They’re designing and building that now,” Powers says. “It’s basically to help small businesses find the resources they need.”

Uh, what about the U.S. Small Business Administration? And doesn’t the state Department of Commerce already offer some services for small businesses? Isn’t there also something called the S.C. Small Business Development Center? And doesn’t the US Department of Agriculture also assist small businesses? And who knows what other government-funded resources there are for small businesses.

Besides, it’s not like there’s a great hue and cry for more government services for small businesses.

What this whole publicly funded flim-flam job appears to be is nothing more than a solution – expanded small businesses services at the S.C. Department of Commerce – that was seeking a problem.

And you can usually count on the good folks at USC to cook up the problem when one is needed. Now, thanks to a study funded largely by public money, all the interested parties have their excuse for further expanding government.

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