The South’s Economic Future

The South’s Economic Future

By Staff

Vol. 2, No. 1, 1979, pp. 3-4

Southern state development leaders prefer low-wage industries and anti-union laws as the primary thrust for the future economic growth in the region, according to a survey released by the Southern Regional Council (SRC).

Citing both “bewilderment and hope” in the findings of the survey of board members of the Southern state economic development agencies, the SRC reports show that “right-to-work” laws that restrict union activities are the most preferred strategy for Southern states to attract industry. As the same time, improved vocational education and upgraded general education were endorsed as two ther steps for the South’s future economic development.

The areas of growth which the development leaders endorsed in the SRC survey completed in late 1978 were sectors “where the wage rates have been low in the South.” For example, the food processing industry was a high preference of Southern development leaders for future growth while wage rates in the industry have been among the lowest in the region during the last decade.

Steve Suitts, executive director of the Council and author of the report, says that the development board whose members were surveyed reflect only a narrow segment of the Southern population and “need to be more representative.” Only two percent of the 169 development board members in the Southern states are Black or other minority and less than one percent are female. “There is no representation of community-based organizations which substatially represent the poor” and few members are from labor groups. The report also finds a need for more representation of “small industrial owners and merchants throughout the region.”

9(Board members on the state development boards in North Carolina were not included in the survey because the agency was in the process of legislative change during the time of the survey. The report is based upon questionnaires which were completed by 43 of the develpment board members in 10 Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, & Virginia).

State development boards and agencies in the South have primary responsibility for establishing priorities and programs for economic development. Southern agencies annually spend more than fifteen million dollars of state fnds to promote the states’ economic fortunes largely through personal contact, recruitment, traveling, and advertising.

Almost all development board members surveyed endorsed “balanced growth” for the South’s future yet a few admitted that they didn’t know what the term actually meant. The chemical industries were, in fact, the first to choice of most leaders surveyed. One in five board members preferred it. Other areas of high preference included mining, manufacturing, tourism, and entertainment.

Suitts points out that develpment leaders have a preference for areas of economic growth which haven’t had rapid job growth in the South during the last nine years. For example, almost 17 percent of those surveyed chose agriculture as their first choice for economic development. “The fact is that jobs in agriculture have been declining over the past 20 years,” Suitts said. If Southern states intend to develp jobs in areas of low growth, “promotional activities alone will not secure such an ambitious objective as reordering the areas of growth within the South.If the trend indicates that development boards do not place the highest priority with creatingjobs in economic development, the very purposes of the agencies are in question,” the report states.

The choices for economic development analyzed by political affiliation revealed surprisiing results. For example, strong and weak Democrats were more likely to endorse low-wage industries as preferred areas of development than were Republicans. Strong Republicans selected high-wage industries more often as their first preference than did any other political group.

Weak Democrats and Independents — not Republicans — chose “right-to-work” laws as the foremost strategy for economic development more than any other political group. Almost half of both weak Republicans and Independents believed that “right-to-work” laws were the preeminent strategies for the South’s

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economic future.

The report also noted that native-born Southerners were more likely to endorse low-wage industries and “right-to-work” laws than were those not born within the region. “At the same time,” Suitts stated, “it is encouraging that lifelong Southerners to note that development leaders born within the South are those who believe that bi-racial cooperation is in any way important in economic development for the future.”

The Council is sending its finding to the state economic development comissions, federal agencies, and Southern governors. The report recommends that Southern governos appoint a more diverse board for economic development and that the agencies institue more focused, direct activities showing that the primary objective of economic development in the region is creating gainful employment for Southerners.

In addition, the report recommends that state agencies “abandon the preferences for areas and strategies of development that stress cheap labour and anti-unionism. ‘A good day’s work for a good day’s pay’ should be enough of a philosophy and slogan to emphasize the attractions of an energetic work force in the South,” the report concludes.

Copies of the report are available from the Southern Regional Council, 75 Marietta Street, N.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30303 at $3.00 each.