S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley fudging job growth

Tally includes jobs not yet ready, others she's politicked against

The Associated PressJuly 18, 2011 

— S.C. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is boasting about job numbers in speeches and interviews, repeatedly saying she's thrilled about the 10,000 jobs announced since she took office in January. A close look at the number shows that Haley's tally is both overstated and easily misinterpreted.

Thousands of the positions will not arrive in South Carolina for years. Some actually were announced before she took office. Hundreds are the fruit of a deal that Haley tried to derail.

After repeated questioning by The Associated Press, the state changed its jobs total several times before finally lowering it to about 9,000 positions; 4,000 of those are with Wal-Mart.

To be sure, even the revised tally after Haley's first six months in office is encouraging for a state long suffering with high unemployment rates - 10 percent as of the May jobless report. Haley said Friday that yet-to-be-announced deals that bring three employers and expand two others were finalized during the Paris Air Show that she and her husband attended last month. And the head of the state manufacturers association says he's pleased the governor has been aggressively recruiting employers as she promised she would while campaigning.

"Her job is to recruit. So far, we like what we see," said president and CEO Lewis Gossett. "One thing we've heard from companies that she talks with, and our members, and people involved is that she's pretty darn good with negotiations."

After AP questioned items on a detailed list provided by the governor's office, which totaled 9,922 jobs, an updated list deleted some lines and added others, bringing the new tally to 10,210 - raising more questions about seemingly nonexistent announcements and some announced last year.

A third list provided Friday evening, listing 14 fewer companies, totaled 9,400 jobs. Further questions saw the number shrink to about 9,000. Commerce Department spokeswoman Amy Love said companies had been listed prematurely, and their job announcements are forthcoming.

The governor told the AP that jobs are her priority and she is focusing on rural employment. "All I can tell you is that it's something I'm working on every day," Haley said.

The use of the phrasing of 10,000 jobs "announced" - touted in interviews, at events and through social media - is not only inaccurate but also is subject to interpretation.

While some employers are hiring this year, thousands of those jobs are only promised to come online over the next five years. Gossett said most of the manufacturing jobs will become reality faster than their promised timeframes, and in the meantime, those projects create construction jobs.

The list also includes hundreds of jobs with Amazon.com that Haley fought.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott called it a stretch for Haley to take credit for those after her public opposition to a sales tax collection deal negotiated under former Gov. Mark Sanford nearly sank the project.

"Those jobs have been created, but quite frankly with no help from her," said Ott, D-St. Matthews.

The 750 jobs counted on the governor's list represent the difference between the 1,250 jobs the online retailer promised in December and the 2,000 jobs the company pledged to sweeten the proposal and get it through the Legislature. The bill giving Amazon a 41/2-year exemption from collecting sales tax from S.C.'s online customers became law last month without her signature.

"You don't keep somebody off the list because you had a dispute about the policies associated with it," Haley said. "What the people of this state want to know is how many jobs we've announced since taking office, and we've stayed very true to that."

She acknowledged counting jobs that did not involve the state, saying it's important to celebrate all jobs. And she said that even if the state played no role, she talked with company officials. Those include the 350 jobs at a rebuilt Tanger Outlet in Beaufort County, where work started last year. She attended the March 31 grand opening and praised the company for creating jobs without seeking financial incentives from the state.

She also acknowledged that some of the deals were handled before she took office.

"Naturally, anything coming in, there were some started by the previous administration," Haley said. "I don't know exactly which ones are before or after. Either way, we're quite excited to have each and every one of those jobs."

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey took issue with any characterization of the governor's statement as misleading.

"I'm not sure what would be misleading about an entirely accurate number. It's a real number, and a number the people of South Carolina can and should be proud of," he said.

In the Amazon fight, Haley called the exemption from sales tax collections unfair to the state's brick-and-mortar retailers that must collect the tax, specifically naming Wal-Mart, which was among the big-box retailers funding the opposition.

Her jobs list includes 4,000 Wal-Mart jobs.

On May 4, Haley and Wal-Mart announced the retailer's plans to create the jobs over five years. The former chief spokeswoman for Commerce, Kara Borie, said May 16 the agency then did not count the Wal-Mart jobs because it "does not incentivize or recruit retail operations."

Haley said Friday retail jobs should never be downplayed.

"The state didn't have anything to do with the Wal-Mart jobs, but your governor did," she said. "I sat down with the head executive of Wal-Mart and arranged and talked to him about how I wanted him to put more stores in South Carolina, how I wanted him to put them in rural areas, and how I wanted to know what that number is."

After Wal-Mart and Amazon, her third-biggest job announcement so far was Amy's Kitchen. The California-based organic frozen food producer announced plans in May to create 700 jobs in Greenville over six years. Also in May, CertusBank announced plans to open a corporate headquarters in Greenville, creating 350 new jobs, and Michelin broke ground on a long-planned expansion in Lexington expected to add 270 jobs.

Most of the other items give smaller numbers; 19 represent fewer than 100 jobs. Several are in the teens. The smallest is 10.

Haley said even a few jobs can be a big deal in rural communities. On Thursday, Haley officially welcomed California-based Be Green Packaging and the 175 jobs and much-needed investment it promises in rural Jasper County.

"If we're bringing 50 jobs or 700, we're pretty excited about it," Haley said. "Every job in South Carolina is valuable. Ask those 10 people who got those jobs what it means to them."

Gossett said the small expansion numbers are actually huge wins.

"They're making a choice between South Carolina and other facilities they already have, and we're winning," he said. "That's why it's so important to land them in the first place."

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