A brief job search for openings in Columbia, South Carolina yields 1,154 results over the course of the past 30 days on careerbuilder.com.
But there aren’t many openings in the City of Bamberg, the seat of Bamberg County, which had the state’s highest unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in July. That search yields 11 results.
Cue the Department of Employment and Workforce, which announced last week in a news release that it would administer a more than $1 million federal grant to create a “pipeline of skilled workers for the healthcare, advanced manufacturing, transportation, and distribution and logistics industries” in six rural counties.
Skilled workers wanted
In rural areas, where unemployment is stubbornly high, workforce development experts say not enough skilled workers exist to fill openings.
Creating a skilled workforce may narrow the employment gap, but it won’t close it. Not enough jobs exist to meet workforce demands.
June data collected and published by the state Commerce Department showed 6,538 people were unemployed in Allendale, Hampton, Barnwell, Bamberg, Clarendon and Orangeburg counties. SCDEW is targeting these counties for workforce development based on unemployment, poverty, education levels and other factors.
In August, job openings data published by workforce development database, SC Works showed 1,976 openings in Allendale, Hampton, Barnwell, Bamberg, Clarendon and Orangeburg counties. Each county has ranked among the top 12 for high unemployment since the spring.
But for critics, there’s more to the grant than mere workforce development. “Workforce development is really code language for the government training workers for private companies,” said Barton Swaim, a spokesman for the South Carolina Policy Council, a libertarian-leaning think tank.
Why should taxpayers pay Boeing to train their workforce, he said, for example.
Laws of (business) attraction
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and the Commerce Department have announced more than 2,500 jobs in these six counties since she took office in 2011.
And what is luring business to rural South Carolina? “The main attractions for companies locating to any county come down to two main things: sites and workforce,” wrote Commerce Department spokeswoman, Allison Skipper in an email Thursday.
But it isn’t a skilled and educated workforce attracting business to rural South Carolina—at least, not based on the counties under this grant.
Swaim denounced an approach he referred to as “if you train them, they will come.” “They might not [come here] for reasons other than workforce.”
As for available sites, Skipper noted businesses look for available land to develop or available buildings.
Swaim thinks land isn’t enough incentive to do business in rural South Carolina because many rural areas aren’t strategically located near interstates or airports—a major attraction for easily conducting business.
Economic development incentives often play a role in attracting business, although details are confidential until after deals close. Incentives may be approved after the agency announces the deal, in some cases.
The agency also uses its Rural Infrastructure Fund to target rural counties by offering financial assistance for businesses infrastructure needs.
As the Affordable Care Act works partly to create a jobs pipeline in health care, and as the Commerce Department and the governor’s office create a manufacturing pipeline—290 of the 375 economic development projects announced have been in the manufacturing sector—SCDEW is creating a workforce to fill them. A spokesman from the governor’s office wasn’t immediately available on Thursday to comment.
But it’s difficult to know how the targeted industries will grow long-term.
Manufacturing, and education and health services posted some of the biggest job losses last month—1,000 and 1,700, respectively. But a spokeswoman from SCDEW didn’t see the dip as a problem. “It’s something in South Carolina that, over the past few years, has been growing,” said Mary-Kathryn Craft.
Employment in manufacturing is up by 6,800 since July 2013; trade, transportation and utilities are up by 4,800; and education and health services are up by 5,100.