Columbia, SC — Too often our political debate suggests that participation in the global economy benefits no one. But business owners and economic developers in South Carolina need to embrace economic innovation to stay globally competitive. And they must recognize that “free trade” offers advantages to the state’s workers and consumers.
The so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia and India, plus China — will increasingly influence world markets, and to ignore them will put South Carolina at a competitive disadvantage.
Fortunately, we already have strong business ties with these countries. India is particularly promising as an English-speaking, U.S. ally and the world’s largest democracy. South Carolina’s reputation in international automotive, aviation and travel and tourism industries provides a natural competitive edge if branded and marketed correctly.
As well as a first-class tourism destination, we have the Port of Charleston, which provides an intermodal advantage not enjoyed by all states. Being proactive, and patient, may prove to be our best foreign policy. Corporate relocation to and job creation in South Carolina often begin with trade missions, trade shows and cultural exchanges — first steps toward future dividends.
But global economics can shift quickly, and political backbiting results in missed opportunities. Indeed, the focus on BRIC is perhaps passe. Some observers now point to MIST countries as good bets: Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey.
Although there are security issues with some growth markets that should be weighed carefully against any economic benefit, up-and-coming economies offer a way to stay focused long after our current politicians have left office.
South Carolina was founded upon international commerce during the Colonial era, when its chief goods were rice, tobacco, and indigo. Today, we have a more diverse economic development portfolio that emphasizes intellectual capital and specialized skills.
Economic transitions can be painful, and the state should certainly protect its people, places and jobs. However, it also makes sense to understand and work with the world around us, taking advantage of BRICs, MISTs or any other nations that help build our prosperity. In short, don’t fear China or other burgeoning economies — engage them, and profit from it.
Acting Director, USC School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism Management