NOBLE: Five good things happening in S.C. – and why

  • Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Newspapers and the media often are accused of only reporting the bad things that happen – and there’s some truth in this. It’s particularly easy to fall into this trap in South Carolina where it seems that there is a lot more bad news than good.

We all know the saying, “If it’s a list of bad things, S.C. is at the top, and on a list of good things, we’re at the bottom.”

As true as this may be, there are some good things happening in our state that have generally been overlooked by the media. Here are five of them and though they may seem unrelated, I think there is a common message for us in all of these examples.

• First, S.C. ranks sixth in the country in the number of new businesses owned by women. In the past seven years, the number has increased a whopping 78 percent, a full 10 percent more than the national average. And, new businesses nationwide are being started by women at twice the rate they were just three years ago. Starting a business or nonprofit group is an act of hope and optimism, and the fact that so many women in our state now feel empowered to do so is a very positive statement about our state. It hasn’t always been this way.

• Second, our state’s colleges and universities have among the best online programs in the country – and it’s not just one or two schools. U.S. New and World Report recently rated nearly a thousand online degree programs in six categories, and we should all be proud of what they found. In their study, anything above a 100 ranking is in the top 10 percent nationally.

Medical University of S.C.’s graduate nursing program was ranked second in the country, and the University of South Carolina’s program was 16th. USC’s graduate education program was ranked 15th, USC Aiken was 84th and Francis Marion was 152nd.

USC Aiken’s bachelor’s degree program was ranked 41st, Charleston Southern was 56th and Limestone was 93rd. USC’s graduate engineering program was ranked 36th.

• Third, the incarceration rate for youth offenders has dropped 67 percent from 1997 to 2011; the decline put us in the top 10 nationally.

• Fourth, our state prison recidivism rate is dropping – and dropping fast. The rate has dropped 18 percent in the past four years alone. These changes have saved the state more than $5 million in 2013 and more savings are on the way as a state prison in Columbia is closing later this year because of excess capacity.

• Fifth, our state’s Apprentice Carolina program, run by the State’s Technical College System, has become not just a national but global model. Since 2007, more than 10,000 trained apprentices have gone to work with 600 companies – all on a training budget of only $600,000 a year.

The program is focused beyond just limited job skills to creating “apprentice scholars” who learn not just skills for today but learning for a lifetime. One of the best programs has been at BMW, and people have come from such places as South Africa, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada to study our success.

Interesting, you say, but what do these have to do with each other? What’s the common thread?

The answer is they are all about results – and not ideology. Too often in our state, some people – especially the politicians making decisions – look at issues through the narrow distorting prism of ideology. On both the left and the right, they make choices and judgments based on some standard of ideologic purity and not on measures of common-sense effectiveness.

All of these success stories are about what works. Women start successful business and their profit or loss is not dependent on their gender. Online course are about the future and innovation, not about how it’s always been done.

When we get past the shrill rhetoric of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” and ask the basic question of “what works,” then we find a very different outcomes. And the apprenticeships are about a new creative public/private partnership. It’s about what works; what’s effective.

And all of us, including the media – especially the media – need to remember it is not always the voices that’s the loudest or the most extreme that have the best answer.

Correction: I was wrong. In a recent column about Fortune 500 corporate headquarters in South Carolina, I said that we had none. Our faulty research indicated that The Domtar Company in Rock Hill was not really a S.C. company, but was essentially Canadian. I was wrong; Domtar has Canadian roots but is now a South Carolina company headquartered in Rock Hill. They have four facilities in the state, employ 865 people, are exporting worldwide and are currently expanding their South Carolina operations. I apologize for getting this wrong and it’s good to know that we do have at least one Fortune 500 company in the state and hopefully Domtar’s good example will encourage others.

• Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats.

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