The Post & Courier: Commentary: SC needs to protect and grow rural job opportunities
South Carolina’s explosive growth over the past decade presents many opportunities, but also numerous challenges in ensuring all residents have a chance to benefit.
The Palmetto State is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, with its population surpassing 5 million and growing at an annual rate of 1.4%. That means an additional 72,280 residents moved here in the past year alone, according to census estimates. It’s easy to understand why. Business-friendly leadership, smiling faces and beautiful places make South Carolina desirable when workers and companies decide where to locate.
Bigger cities such as Charleston, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill have been the primary beneficiaries of South Carolina’s recent population and economic growth. All of these cities deserve high praise for their efforts to attract jobs and investment. At the same time, many of South Carolina’s rural economies have fallen behind these bigger metropolitan areas. Sadly, towns such as Estill, Allendale and Bennettsville have experienced substantial declines in population and job opportunities.
This reality has placed significant hardships on our rural residents and businesses, as reflected by hospital closures, substandard schools and lack of access to fresh food. The question is, how can we fix this? One way is to give our farms and farmers new tools to work with.
The South Carolina Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association believes it’s time for creative thinking in Columbia and across the state. That’s why we are supporting the S.C. Equine Advancement Act to help our rural residents, economies and ways of life.
The legislation, which has been filed in the S.C. House and Senate, would create new revenue streams for South Carolina’s rural economies by allowing state residents to bet on horse races being run every day in other states. By simply legalizing advance-deposit wagering on mobile devices, we can join the many other states and countries that allow this common form of secure, state-regulated online entertainment.
Nearby states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Florida have enjoyed legalized advance-deposit wagering on horse events for decades. Due to their more favorable economic climates, they have been siphoning equine job and businesses out of South Carolina.
The new dollars created by the S.C. Equine Advancement Act could help recapture and retain many, if not most, of the jobs and investments in South Carolina made by our equine industry. Legalizing advance-deposit wagering for equine events would boost the economy in many of the state’s agricultural areas that need our support, now more than ever.
South Carolina’s storied and historic equine industry was recently estimated to account for nearly 30,000 jobs and a $1.9 billion annual economic benefit to our state. A large portion of this activity occurs in economically challenged regions where small, local businesses such as tack stores, training facilities, barns and feed stores and hard workers such as horse trainers, veterinarians, farriers and grooms depend on a fragile infrastructure for their livelihoods.
Horse-keeping is labor-intensive and creates thousands of jobs for people who are not necessarily well-equipped to work in other professions.
The legislation would create a S.C. Equine Commission, an appointed body that would direct new funding and grants made possible by the wagering to support existing rural agribusiness and create opportunities for additional jobs and educational programming such as 4-H and college-level equine studies.
Thankfully, the legislation already has support from several legislators who represent our rural districts, but it needs your active support, too.
Please contact your state elected officials and tell them to fight for South Carolina’s rural communities that depend on the horse industry.
Consider the economic development and job protection benefits of the advance-deposit wagering legislation.
Without proactive thinking, South Carolina’s rural and agricultural communities will fall further behind, and we’ll lose more of the precious heritage our ancestors (and their horses) worked so hard to build.
Debbie McCutchen is an advocate for South Carolina’s equine industry and owner of the McCutchen Training Center, a horse training facility in Kingstree.