Business. Brief.

S.C. Farmer Fights for Immigration Reform

Also: Columbia Chamber, EngenuitySC Name New Directors

By Elwood Hamilton
Sunday, March 23, 2014

With a recently released report showing the percentage of U.S.-consumed fruits and vegetables that are imported rising rapidly in recent years while production has been near stagnant or declining, a South Carolina peach farmer was in Washington, D.C., last week to champion for comprehensive immigration reform.

Chalmers Carr of Titan Farms in Ridge Spring told media outlets that comprehensive immigration reform is needed to increase productivity so that it can keep up with demand.

“Right now, the agriculture industry is the most dependent on foreign labor as any industry in the country,” he said on a conference call. “Out of the estimated 1.2 million workers, it’s roughly believed that 70 percent of those are not legally employable in the country. You have a need of future flow of workers through a guest worker program. There is where immigration comes forward, where you need border security, new employment verification standards, and those must go hand in hand.”

Carr said he’s been using the federal H2A program, which allows for foreign workers to legally work on farms on a limited or seasonal basis, for the past 16 years, but that many year-round farms can’t participate because of the time limitations.

“If we don’t figure out a system to get labor to come and work on our farms, our domestic prod of fruits and vegetables will move offshore,” he continued, “and that will bring up questions of food security and food safety in this country.”

Columbia Chamber Taps New CEO

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s new CEO and president starts work on Monday after a search that lasted almost three months, the organization announced late last week. Carl Blackstone, a government relations advisor with Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, a Columbia area law firm, was chosen from a pool of several dozen applicants.

“I am humbled and honored to be selected to lead the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and serve this thriving community,” said Blackstone in a press release. “I am excited about the opportunity ahead to make the region more competitive and help align businesses with the resources they need to grow and expand, ultimately bringing new jobs into our community.”

Blackstone’s most recent job required him to work closely with both the state legislature and governor’s office. Prior to that, he served as senior legislative advisor to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Blackstone is replacing former CEO and President Ike McCleese, who passed away unexpectedly in late October only a few weeks after announcing his retirement. McCleese had been with the Chamber since 1994.

EngenuitySC names New Executive Director

EngenuitySC, a local nonprofit specializing in development of the knowledge economy, named a new executive director last week. Meghan Hughes, who previously served in the role of senior project manager for the group, will be taking over for former Executive Director George Hutton.

In a press release, the organization said that “Hughes will oversee EngenuitySC’s ongoing economic development initiatives, including Ignite! and Science Cafe. She will also continue to oversee initiatives focused on clean and alternative energy (NuHub), sustainable planning and development of land (Urban Land Institute), and education and development of local K-12 talent (Richland STEM).”

“This is an incredible opportunity to lead a talented team and work with our dedicated Board to make the Midlands a more prosperous place to live,” said Hughes. “I believe in the competitiveness mission of EngenuitySC and the power of our collaborative partnerships. Together, we are going to accomplish big things.”

S.C. Among Top States in Deploying Small Business Funds

Since 2010, South Carolina has used $16.5 million to support small businesses since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The funds were allocated as part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative, a national program aimed at strengthening state lending to small businesses and small manufacturers. 

Since the program was instituted over three years ago, South Carolina has deployed roughly 92 percent of the nearly $18 million it received as part of the initiative. Locally, the S.C. Jobs Economic Development Authority has been directly responsible for distributing the funds.

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