Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How do we gain more ground, faster

By C. Grant Jackson

Senior Vice President/Community Development
The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and New Carolina Partner

Per Capita Income in South Carolina continues to head in the right direction. That was part of the story out of the data released late last month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Just not fast enough. That was the rest of the story hidden in the mass of BEA data.

South Carolina’s per capita income, a metric that has been tied to New Carolina since its beginning nearly 10 years ago as South Carolina’s Council on Competitiveness, is now $33,163. That compares to $26,132 in 2003 when Harvard professor Michael Porter came to South Carolina to present his economic analysis and recommended South Carolina form a public-private partnership to tackle a cluster strategy for moving the state’s economy forward. That led to New Carolina.

Since Porter’s study and the creation of New Carolina, per capita income has increased, just not enough and just not quickly enough. It has continued to hover around 81-82% of the national average – $33,163 is 81.7% of the current national average of $40,584. We also currently rank 45 in per capita income among the states. Those lower than us: Arkansas 46 at $33,150, West Virginia 47 at $32,641, Utah 48 at $32,595, Idaho 49 at $32,257, and (I won’t say it) Mississippi 50 at $31,186. By the way, we’ve actually ranked higher – in 2003 we were 42nd at $33,041 and 83% of the national average of $31,632.

If you notice that 2003 national average is actually less than our state’s current per capita income. And that is the problem: as we gain ground, others are gaining a lot more. That is the real message: if we want South Carolina to break out of the 81-82% of the national average, we’ve got to find a way to grow quicker. 
We often quote Michael Porter as saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” But to win a marathon at some point you’ve got to run faster and overtake the other guy. So as New Carolina moves toward closing its first decade I’d like to start a race strategy conversation: how do we move up in the pack?

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