Opinion

Celebrate, build on Boeing coup

WE'LL ALL BE ANALYZING the whats and whos and hows of the Boeing deal for months, perhaps years, to come, because understanding how South Carolina landed its biggest industrial coup ever will help determine the policies we need to pursue in the months and years to come:

- Does this deal mean that Gov. Mark Sanford isn't the drag on our state that many believe he is? Or does it suggest that governors really aren't as important in economic recruitment as we've always been told?

- Does it vindicate the power that has been maintained by the Legislative State, as guest columnist Bob McAlister reluctantly argues on the facing page? Or does it simply mean that a bad system can on occasion work?

- Could lawmakers have given away less in tax breaks and direct aid or demanded better wages, given our attractive non-union workforce and low cost of living? Or is nearly $200,000 per promised job as hard a bargain as a state could reasonably be expected to drive?

- Does Boeing's decision mean that recent reforms to our workers compensation laws and our tort laws really are sufficient, and that we don't need to do more in those areas in order to attract jobs to our state?

- What does this tell us about the importance of our technical college system? And will legislators hear the message when they make budget decisions?

- What are the implications for a rational tax system or a government that operates in the sunshine when lawmakers snap together a secret, virtually unvetted tax package worth hundreds of millions of dollars?

But those questions can wait. Now is the time to celebrate. This is a major coup for our state. With a promise of 3,800 jobs in the next seven years - as many as 3,000 of them in the next year alone - Boeing is likely to equal if not exceed the transformational power of BMW, whose initial promise of 2,000 jobs grew over the years to 5,000, and resulted in an estimated 18,000 spin-off jobs.

The Boeing decision demonstrates what our political leaders - even under what most would agree is the worst of circumstances - can accomplish when they put the best interests of our state ahead of personal and political feuds, rigid philosophical hang-ups and other distractions and petty differences that so often hold our state back. Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman led negotiations that he knew would accrue to the benefit of his arch-enemy, the governor. Mr. Sanford's Commerce secretary, Joe Taylor, worked past his boss's well-established disdain for incentive packages. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell assured Boeing officials that top legislative leaders could be dependable partners, and then they delivered on their promises by assembling the unanimous, finger-snap approval of the incentive package that sealed the deal.

Boeing's decision is a huge deal because of the number of good-paying, skilled jobs it will create, as well as the number of other businesses that are likely to follow Boeing to our state, perhaps bringing as many jobs as the aeronautics giant itself.

Though the bulk of the new jobs won't appear overnight, and 3,800 or even 8,000 jobs won't eliminate the economic woes in a state where more than 250,000 people are looking for work, the decision by such a marquee company to bet its future on our state has a huge psychological impact: It tells other companies that South Carolina is a place to consider. And it tells South Carolinians that we have not dug ourselves so deep into a hole that we can't get out. That we can compete.

That's something to be proud of. It's something to work hard to maintain. And it's a springboard from which to move forward.

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