On Capitol Hill Thursday, academics, lawmakers and business leaders gathered for the launch of the new Congressional Caucus for Middle Market Growth. The caucus will help give voice to the more than 200,000 companies of the middle market and includes as members Reps. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.).

Highlights from the event included:

Rep. Schneider emphasized that middle-market companies are looking for certainty from Washington and thanked his fellow lawmakers for being willing to work across the aisle. Lawmakers, he said, need to embrace risk takers and called middle-market employers the sort of "prudent risk takers" that Washington should support to help grow the economy and create jobs.

The middle market employs more than 44 million people and includes companies such as Caribou Coffee and Tootsie Roll. "They’re bigger than a breadbox, but smaller than a Fortune 500 company," Thomas A. Stewart, executive director of the National Center for the Middle Market, told the audience of more than 50 people gathered in the Cannon House Office Building.

Pam Hendrickson, global chairman of the Association for Corporate Growth and chief operating officer of The Riverside Company, a private equity firm, said her company invests in mid-sized firms. She said many of them look to Riverside for expertise on how to grow their businesses or face economic headwinds.

Middle-market companies usually have a harder time weathering new regulations, Mr. Stewart and others said. Unlike small businesses, which are exempt from many regulations, and giant multinational companies with lots of resources, mid-sized firms bear the brunt of regulations.

Isabel Fernandez, chief commercial officer at GE Capital, Americas, said mid-sized firms are run efficiently and want to export, but often need help navigating foreign trade.

Rep. Rice also spoke, and said he’s hoping his fellow lawmakers work to lessen the burden that regulations have on mid-sized firms.

 

For more information about the caucus and the middle market, please see the following:

  • An op-ed in The Hill
  • The website for the Association for Corporate Growth
  • The website of the National Center for the Middle Market, which is a collaboration between GE Capital and The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business

South Carolina leaders have announced that state funding of maintenance dredging for the Port of Georgetown has been approved as part of its $18 million budget.

The total cost of the project, which will increase the depth of the channel to 27 feet, is $33.5 million and the balance of the funding will come from federal and local funds, as well as the state’s Ports Authority.

Sen. Yancey McGill, speaking on behalf of Sen. Ray Cleary, Rep. Carl Anderson, and Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, announced June 16 that the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget included $5 million for the dredging project and promises $2.6 million in each of the next five years.

He added that the dredging project will take four years and port renovations are being planned as well.

McGill said, “I want to express my appreciation for their cooperation and assistance to the Georgetown County Council, the City of Georgetown, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Jim Clyburn, Rep. Tom Rice, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, Jim Newsome and the South Carolina Ports Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Natural Resources, and Tim Tilley, Vida Miller, [Georgetown County Administrator] Sel Hemingway, Jim Jerow and Mayor [Jack] Scoville of the Georgetown Dredging Task Force.

“To secure new capital investment and job creation, we must grow and invest in our economy. This project will promote both commerce and tourism in our state.

“Finally, the Charleston and Georgetown state ports are moving forward for dredging.”

Tilley, chair of the Task Force, said he is proud of the local legislative delegation and the General Assembly for taking this big step toward making the dredging project a reality.

“This is a step in the process required for us to obtain complete funding for the port dredging,” Tilley said.

“I’m very excited that the state, through our local delegation, has shown their willingness to protect this state asset.”

He said the next steps in the process involve obtaining federal funding and local funding.

Earlier this month, the federal government passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) with language that will make it easier for small ports like Georgetown to receive funding.

Rice, who was instrumental in the passing of the WRRDA, said he applauds state leaders for their hard work on South Carolina’s budget and recognizing the economic potential of the Georgetown Port.

“This port is key to maintaining our state’s competitiveness. By funding the dredging of this canal, South Carolina has sent a clear signal to our federal appropriators – the Palmetto State is serious about deepening the Georgetown Port and furthering its competitive edge,” Rice said.

For the local portion of the project funding, Georgetown County leaders have appointed a commission to develop a referendum question for a one-cent Capital Projects Sales Tax.

One of the five projects for the sales tax funds will be the $6 million local portion of the dredging project funding.

Hemingway, who has been leading the Capital Sales Tax Commission, said the state approving funding for the project is very good news.

“We want to thank our local delegation for their efforts in making this appropriation possible,” he said.

“We look forward to having similar results from the federal delegation so we can move the project forward and complete dredging as soon as possible.”

Hemingway pointed out that the local contribution, which could be handled by the one-cent sales tax over four years, is necessary for everything to fall in place for dredging.

Tilley urged voters to say “yes” to the one-cent sales tax in November.

“In my opinion, the sales tax mechanism becomes a very attractive option for us since the revenue stream is from sales tax and visitors to the area will help pay for it,” Tilley said.

“I believe it is a wise choice to fund port dredging through the capital projects referendum.”

By Clayton Stairs
cstairs@southstrandnews.com

South Carolina’s 7th District Congressman Tom Rice is celebrating his first major success on Capitol Hill.

The freshman congressman took a leadership role in the House and on a bicameral conference committee to help pass the federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The bill, which cleared the Senate Thursday and awaits the president’s signature, directly affects the Charleston and Georgetown ports.

The $12.3 billion measure to improve America’s waterways and ports took almost a year to complete. It will still be up to Congress to approve the spending on each project.

Congressman Rice says he worked on language to help all ports cut through bureaucracy after they get an environmental permit:

“Once they get their permit, that can proceed with their own money to deepen the port and then come back the next time a water resources bill is done and then ask the federal government for reimbursement. They don’t have to do that, but they can choose to do that,” Rice told South Carolina Radio Network.

The South Carolina legislature has set aside $300 million to pay for the Port of Charleston harbor deepening, which includes additional money that could cover the federal share of the cost.

Rice said he expects Charleston to have its environmental permits completed next year.

“Then the state of South Carolina will be able to proceed at that point without federal authorization to deepen the Charleston port. With respect to the Georgetown port, this bill will allow Georgetown– and I certainly plan to assist them in this — to proceed to the Army Corps of Engineers and make our case for the viability of the deepening of that port, ” he added.

The bill allows Georgetown, designated an “Emerging Port,” (less than one million tons a year) to get assistance in dredging and maintenance through the year 2022.

In their summary of the bipartisan bill, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., cosigned a statement, saying “These projects, which have undergone congressional scrutiny and have completed reports of the Chief of Engineers, will strengthen our nation’s infrastructure to protect lives and property, restore vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage, and maintain navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods to keep us competitive in the global marketplace.”

The last water resources bill like this passed in 2007. Rice is confident this version will be signed into law soon and that it will bring more jobs into South Carolina.  He is concerned that the U.S has fallen behind in ports progress because of waiting for the federal government — and Congress — in the meantime.

“If you consider the fact that it has taken 16 years to get approvals to deepen Port Everglades (Fla.), I wonder how many ports China’s deepened since then? And how many American jobs have moved over there?

May 26, 2014 by 

The freshman lawmaker from South Carolina’s 7th District served on the conference committee on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act and spoke with The Associated Press from his Washington office minutes after the U.S. House, by a 412-4 vote, approved the legislation. The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate later this week and then head to the president.

For the next seven fiscal years, it allocates 10 percent of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund expenditures for improvements at smaller ports handling less than 1 million tons of cargo annually. The original House version allocated such money for only two years.

The trust fund brings in about $1.8 billion a year from port users.

“The Georgetown port is going to have to make its case and I will help with that with the Corps of Engineers on the merits of dredging the port,” Rice said. “I think that’s going to be an easy argument because the State of South Carolina has set aside funds to match federal funds.”

It’s expected to cost about $32 million to dredge the Georgetown port that is in his district.

The water bill authorizes spending on 26 waterway and harbor projects, including the $650 million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel to the Georgia ports. It also allows the deepening of shipping channels in Charleston and other ports to be paid for with local money while seeking federal reimbursement later.

The Charleston project is expected to cost upward to $350 million and is being studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A final Corps decision is expected next year.

Both Savannah and Charleston want to deepen their channels to handle a new generation of larger container ships that will routinely call when the Panama Canal widening is completed next year.

Rice said that the water bill garnered bipartisan support in an era of partisan politics

“Everybody knows jobs are important and everybody wants to see our economy flourish. While we may not agree on exactly how to get that done, pretty much everybody agrees infrastructure is an important part of that,” he said.

Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority applauded House passage of the bill saying it meets key port priorities “specifically a seamless transition into construction for the Charleston Harbor deepening project and the possibility to secure channel maintenance funding for the Port of Georgetown.”

In order to maintain American competitiveness, we must ensure that our 21st Century workforce includes the highly skilled and trained craftsmen and professionals that our economy requires.

Over the years, federal workforce training and workplace development programs have been added and existing programs have been modified in order to address spikes in unemployment.  While these changes were made with good intentions, they resulted in duplicative and unnavigable workforce training programs.

The President agrees.  During his 2012 State of the Union address, he committed to cutting through the maze of programs and creating “one program” so our job seekers can find the help they need to excel.

Last March, my colleagues and I acted by passing legislation to streamline job training programs and put Americans back to work.  The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act (SKILLS Act) consolidates 35 duplicative federal job training programs, eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy, and ensures that job seekers have access to the job training they need immediately.

The job training programs are consolidated into a Workforce Investment Fund to fund Workforce Investment Board initiatives.  Currently, the criteria for federal funding for workforce development programs is so restrictive that local communities cannot use the funds to innovate and develop training programs to satisfy the needs of local businesses.

The Pee Dee Workforce Investment Board in my district – South Carolina’s Seventh Congressional District—would like to launch a QuickJobs program that would prepare job seekers for positions that do not require a two-year or four-year degree, such as construction jobs.  Unfortunately, the board cannot use their funding to start a QuickJobs program because their funding can only go towards two-year programs.  The SKILLS Act would give the board the flexibility they need to innovate, which could prove critical as the construction industry is expected by some to need over 2,000,000additional workers by 2018.

The SKILLS Act also changes regulations that require community and technical colleges to apply multiple times to be listed as eligible providers of federal workforce training.  The Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT), located in Florence, SC, could benefit greatly from this change.

SiMT is a state-of-the-art facility specializing in programs that prepare job seekers for a variety of jobs in the Southeast that require special skill sets not commonly available at four year colleges or universities.  This large training facility offers students the opportunity to pursue industry-recognized and nationally portable certifications from NCCER in areas like welding and pipefitting as well as in various fabrication and heavy equipment occupations.  In addition, SiMT offers programs in cutting edge fields such as engineering CAD/CAM, 3D/virtual reality services, and rapid prototyping.

Employers are desperately searching for skilled craft professionals to build the 21st Century American landscape. Collaboration between the federal government, industry and state-of-the-art technical colleges like SiMT, would help job seekers obtain the training they need so our nation’s construction industry can expand and reach its full potential.

In today’s global market, businesses are developing new products and manufacturing techniques to stay ahead of the curve.  Our job training programs must evolve with businesses, and this evolution must include collaboration between the industries seeking employees and the education and training programs that will ensure these needs are filled.

The SKILLS Act’s Workforce Investment Fund would allow for our job training and readiness programs, like the credentials  offered at SiMT, to grow simultaneously with new business technologies so our workforce is the most developed and highly-skilled in the World.