Politics & Government

SC Gov. McMaster taps Columbia labor attorney to head workforce agency

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster nominated Daniel Ellzey to be the next director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster nominated Daniel Ellzey to be the next director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. Fisher & Phillips LLP

A Columbia labor attorney who represents corporate interests has been tapped by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster to head the state’s employment and workforce department.

McMaster on Wednesday nominated Daniel Ellzey to be the next director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

The nomination comes hours after a joint committee of S.C. House and Senate members recommended Ellzey and Col. Ronald Franklin Taylor, chief of staff of the S.C. National Guard, for the position. And comes after the General Assembly passed a law allowing lawmakers to submit less than three applicants to McMaster as nominees to serve as the state’s new workforce director until the position is filled or July 1, 2019.

The two were the only to apply for the position, even after it was re-advertised, according to lawmakers.

“Dan Ellzey is widely recognized as one of the most experienced and accomplished employment and labor attorneys in South Carolina and is eminently qualified to lead this critically important state agency,” McMaster said in a statement. “The Department of Employment and Workforce is uniquely situated between the state’s workforce and its businesses seeking qualified employees and is one of the many reasons South Carolina is considered one of the best places in the world to do business. I’m confident that Mr. Ellzey will continue the agency’s tremendous work and will help take it to even greater heights.”

State Sen. and committee chairman Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said Ellzey brings a perspective of the employment needs of private industry and what attracts them to the Palmetto State. While Taylor has “bottom-up” experience working with DEW and the National Guard assisting transitioning service members and veterans in beginning new careers.

“Whoever the governor picks, DEW will be well-led by both,” Bannister said Wednesday morning.

Cheryl Stanton, the state’s prior workforce director, resigned in December. Stanton was appointed to the position in May 2013 by then-Gov. Nikki Haley and led the agency during a period of record low unemployment.

Jamie Suber, assistant executive director of the agency’s Unemployment Insurance Division, has been serving as acting director.

Ellzey, 71, a partner in the Columbia office of the Fisher Phillips law firm, has advised companies across the nation on labor relations, including union campaigns and elections, collective bargaining and labor arbitration.

DEW manages unemployment insurance benefits in the state and helps residents find jobs, matching businesses with qualified candidates.

More than 2.26 million South Carolinians — a record — now are working across the state. But while South Carolina’s jobless rate has dipped below the national average of 3.8 percent, the state’s labor participation rate — the percentage of eligible workers actually in the workforce — lags behind the national average and surrounding states, and employers have struggled to find skilled workers.

“The career pathways are there (through the state’s technical colleges and university system),” Ellzey told lawmakers. “The question is execution,” getting the skills to the right people in the right places.

Ellzey said transportation needs and exorbitant child care costs, particularly in rural areas, present a large barrier to improving the state’s workforce participation, along with rigid shift schedules.

“I think we’ve got to be innovative ... to get women to come back and be an active member of the workforce,” he said.

Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.