Verifying Governor’s Job Claims Remains Elusive

April 18, 2012

Investigative Reports

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Jobs ClaimIf Gov. Nikki Haley has one signature issue, it’s job creation. At one point last year she went so far as to state that she eats, breathes and sleeps jobs daily.

Indeed, rarely a week goes by without at least one economic development announcement emanating from Haley’s office, touting jobs and capital investment for South Carolina. Sometimes there are two or even three.

But lest one confuse jobs announced with jobs created, consider this:

Recent press releases from Haley’s office include the claim that last year, South Carolina recruited more than 13,000 new jobs in the manufacturing sector.

However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a net total of only 400 “goods-producing” jobs were added to South Carolina’s economy last year.

And while South Carolina did add nearly 18,000 jobs in all last year, 8,100 were in the government sector, including 5,900 state government jobs.

However, Haley, who touts her “unwavering commitment to the taxpayers’ bottom line,” hasn’t had her staff issue any releases on the addition of government jobs. Instead, it’s all private-sector promotion, no matter how far into the future the projected jobs may lie.

For example, last October, Continental Tire said it would add 1,700 jobs in Sumter over the next 10 years; while GKN Aerospace announced in November it would add “more than 250 jobs” over the next six years. That works out to 170 jobs and about 42 jobs annually, respectively.

In fact, of the approximately 110 economic development announcements archived on the state Department of Commerce’s website, 25 of the projects are spread out over five years or more, and at least 32 are spread over more than a year, a review by The Nerve found.

Proud, or Presumptuous?

Haley and her office rarely miss an opportunity to tout an economic development “success,” no matter the size.

Monday it was Ohio-based Grace Plastics and its plans to locate a facility in Greenville County (16 employees over the next two years); Tuesday it was an announcement by Duke Sandwich Production regarding a new facility in Anderson County (45 jobs over five years.)

But while the Governor’s Office and the S.C. Department of Commerce are all too happy to flood the media with press releases on job announcements, nearly all of which can be found on their websites, neither are at all interested in following up afterward.

As The Nerve detailed earlier this year, neither track the number of jobs that have actually been created.

Officials with Haley’s office told The Nerve in January to check with Commerce to get a handle on jobs actually created; while Commerce told The Nerve that the companies creating the jobs would be the best sources for that information.

The Nerve attempted to follow up with both the Governor’s Office and the Department of Commerce through phone and email inquiries this week to check if anything had changed regarding the compiling of job-creation figures, but got no response from either.

What that means to the average South Carolinian is there remains no way to verify job-creation figures thrown around by state officials.

Following up with companies proved difficult, though it’s notable that some corporations – private entities under no obligation to return media inquiries – did at least respond to phone calls from The Nerve, unlike taxpayer-funded state officials.

The Nerve contacted several companies that have made large economic development announcements since Haley took office, in an attempt to assess progress.

Michelin, Continental Tire, CertusBan, Amy’s Kitchen and Innovative Composites International did not return calls to The Nerve.

TD Bank said that it would try and get figures for The Nerve, but didn’t get back with a response in time for publication.

An official with 5-Star USA asked if he could call The Nerve back in a couple of days, after he’d resolved a family medical issue.

Of the eight companies The Nerve contacted, only Bridgestone was able to provide job-creation numbers.

Last September, Bridgestone announced it would build a new facility and expand in Aiken County, Those plans called for the addition of 850 full-time and contractor positions, according to information put out at the time.

To date, the company has hired 45 individuals, Jeremy Smith, a Bridgestone spokesman, said in an email to The Nerve.

The construction-management company working on the Bridgestone project has hired another 100-plus people, Smith said. However, it’s not believed that those individuals were part of the original 850 figure, as construction jobs are almost always short-term positions that end once that phase of work is complete.

The bottom line is that Commerce’s suggestion to seek out job-creation data from the companies creating jobs isn’t a certifiable method to obtain information.

What is known is that overall, few manufacturing jobs were added to the Palmetto State’s economy in 2011.

In all, there were 17,900 more jobs in South Carolina between January 2011, when Haley took office, and February 2012,according to the most recent data available from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

However, 17,500, or 97.8 percent, were “service-producing” positions, according to DEW.

In addition, the Department of Employment and Workforce doesn’t know which companies are hiring and which are cutting staff, spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said.

That’s because the agency gets its figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Pitfalls of Hype

Also highlighting the downside of touting job-announcement numbers is the fact that sometimes those positions don’t get created.

For example, California-based organic frozen-food producer Amy’s Kitchen announced last May that it would build a new facility in Greenville County and create 700 jobs over the coming six years.

But in December the company said it was postponing the facility and would instead reconfigure plants in California and Oregon to meet increased demand in the meantime.

Delays in retrofitting the new plant, a 125,000-square-foot former Sara Lee facility in Greenville, will put off the plant’s opening by “a few years,” Amy’s Kitchen said in published reports at the time.

Officials with Amy’s Kitchen did not respond to calls from The Nerve seeking an update on the status of the Greenville plant.

Other companies have had to put expansion plans on hold in recent months, as well. They include:

  • AQT Solar, a California-based company that was supposed to bring 1,000 jobs to Richland County. The spec building set aside for AQT Solar remains vacant.
  • Proterra, which reduced job figures for its manufacturing facility at Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research from 1,300 jobs over seven years to 400 jobs over five years. And
  • South Korean electric vehicle manufacturer CT&T, which last year confirmed it no longer planned to build a 370-employee plant in Duncan.

In fairness to Haley, all but Amy’s Kitchen were announced under her predecessor, former Gov. Mark Sanford.

However, all four examples point out the dangers of overemphasizing accomplishments that not only haven’t taken place, but can be subject to the whims of investors and consumers.

Haley’s office, however, does its best to ensure that no visitor to the State House will overlook the governor’s emphasis on jobs.

Perched at the entrance to the west wing, where the governor’s office is located, is a video monitor proclaiming the number of jobs announced since Haley took over as South Carolina’s chief executive.

As of Tuesday, it read:

Office of the Governor Nikki R. Haley

Jobs announced

since

January 12, 2011

23,198

How many of those jobs actually pan out is anyone’s guess. Whether South Carolinians will ever get an accurate reckoning of what’s been promised and what’s actually taken place is anyone’s guess, as well.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.