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Economic success for South Carolina will be a marathon not a sprint, a Harvard Business School professor told a New Carolina conference. Essential to that will be developing a “critical mass” of economic clusters and more collaboration between business and government, said Michael Porter.
Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told New Carolina leaders Thursday that South Carolina needs a new way to think about economic development. The state has made progress over the past seven years since New Carolina was formed with the help of Porter.
“So the headline for this story is ‘What has New Carolina accomplished? A lot,’” Porter said to the 200 business leaders attending the conference in Columbia on Thursday.
New Carolina, the state’s Council on Competitiveness, has followed the Porter model of setting up strategic clusters throughout the state, capitalizing on businesses already here.
The 15 clusters established are “not just window dressing,” Porter said, reminding the audience that 70% of the economy grows from the local market, and 30% from national and international businesses.
However, the “old South Carolina way of thinking about economic development has to change,” Porter said. “South Carolina has to stop thinking of the old buck-shot approach — recruit a few big companies to the state and, poof, the economic development problem will disappear.”
The Harvard professor characterized that as “the old language” of competitiveness.
Instead, the state must keep “grinding away with sheer determination to make this work. This means putting your local assets to work, and this will be a long process.”
Porter used the example of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which took 25 years to develop. South Carolina already is strong in its forest products and nuclear clusters, the latter in which the state collaborated with North Carolina to attract suppliers, research and ancillary companies.
However, Porter said one hindrance has been the role of government. The cluster approach “was not immediately embraced by the political leadership. It questioned whether clusters are good.
“We can’t keep fighting among ourselves. A common agenda for production is important, but that’s been a handicap. This is not a partisan issue. When it’s partisan, nothing gets done,” Porter said.
He congratulated the state’s businesses for spearheading the effort, stating that he knows of only five places worldwide where private interests have “stepped up” to the challenge like in South Carolina. A thousand volunteers have joined the New Carolina effort, he said.