U.S. Rep. Tom Rice said Thursday collaboration amongst regional and national assets is a key to helping foster job creation in a district that is consistently above state unemployment rates.

Rice, R-S.C., held a forum with roughly 50 economic leaders and regional stakeholders at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College. They listened to Rice talk of his interactions with members of Congress and officials abroad about economic competition and the additional resources South Carolina and District 7 need to remain competitive.

“The country needs to change its attitude,” Rice said. “We have counties competing for jobs across the nation, we have states, and South Carolina is doing a really good job of competing for jobs, countries are competing for jobs as well. Most industrialized countries have organized departments whose job it is is to figure out how to make their countries more competitive. The United States has nothing like that.”

He said the collaboration is there at the local and state levels, historically, but it has not been duplicated at the national level.

“What we haven’t had is federal attention,” Rice said. “So I’m trying to add that fourth layer of collaboration. That’s one thing I can do.”

Jeff McKay, executive director of the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, agreed with Rice’s motives and said that being with other interested groups in one room helps the groups understand one another and utilize resources that could eventually become future projects for the area and state.

“In this region there’s a tremendous need for it (collaboration). We are in some cases competing with the rest of the state, but truly in the business world, we’re competing with the world,” McKay said. “Because a company today, they can locate anywhere in the world that they want, so we’re a region of several hundred thousand strong competing with the rest of the millions in the world, and we better utilize our resources, our talents and our skills if we bring it all to the table together.”

While McKay said that NESA — a nine county economic development group that works to recruit and foster economic development — has reliable resources, the public acknowledgement of Rice’s desire to help and resources from University of South Carolina’s Office of Economic Engagement USC OEE), only strengthen NESA’s ability to attract talent to the area.

“I’ll tell you the companies, that’s what they look for,” McKay said. “They’re looking for a community that can come together and work together to make them successful, and I think we’ve proven that.”

Ann Marie Stieritz, deputy executive director of USC OEE, said the efforts of the newly formed department at USC will help developers and companies utilize university resources to further foster and attract development.

“We’re that single point of contact with customized solutions and then providing access to resources at university,” Steritz said. “So this means we look at and say is it a research question? Is it a workforce question? Is it business consulting expertise?’ ... We have so many of those resources. It’s our responsibility to be able to navigate that on behalf of the company and make it a priority.”