State Sen. Vincent Sheheen ate lobster, tasted moonshine and talked small business during a visit Thursday to Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Sheheen, a Democrat campaigning for a gubernatorial run in 2014, laid out his vision for improving small businesses in the state while chatting with the owners of Sea Pines Liquor and Joe Loves Lobster Rolls, a local food truck.
"All too often, our state government has been focused on big business," he said outside The Shops at Sea Pines Center. "We need to provide a more friendly, entrepreneurial culture to support our small businesses."
The visit was part of his statewide campaign to connect with small businesses, which he said have been ignored during Gov. Nikki Haley's tenure. Sheheen lost to Haley, a Republican, in 2010.
Haley's campaign countered in a statement Thursday: "(S)ince Nikki Haley was elected, our unemployment rate is down to a five-year low, we have the fastest-growing economy on the East Coast and more of our job announcements have been expansions than new companies. Whether it's enthusiastically embracing Obamacare, fighting against tort reform or raising taxes, Vince Sheheen's vision for South Carolina is a nightmare for our small businesses. That was the case four years ago, and nothing has changed."
During his discussion Thursday, Sheheen outlined obstacles small businesses face in the state.
He emphasized reducing commercial taxes on small-business owners. He also addressed business license fees that he says stymie growth.
"Local business license fees are very haphazard across the state," he said. "We definitely need to have a more uniform system where they are reasonable and they are appropriate for the communities."
Beaufort County Council is considering eliminating the county's business license fees, which would mean a loss of about $1.5 million in annual revenue to the general fund, according to county data.
Sheheen has supported reforming fees, but wouldn't go as far as eliminating them statewide, he said.
"That may mean there are some in some communities, but I do support making sure they are fair and equitable," he said.
He also touched on the state's deteriorating infrastructure, saying that as governor he'd make road repairs a priority.
"All you have to do is get on Interstate 95 coming from Georgia to South Carolina and you can see in Georgia they have made them a priority," he said. "When you hit that South Carolina border, everything slows down. You go to four lanes, and there are potholes."
In the past, Sheheen has said such repairs could not be properly addressed with a single revenue stream like the gas tax. He said he plans to explore bonds, leasing of public lands and automobile sales taxes as additional sources.
Finally, Sheheen brought up tourism, much to the delight of Tony Herndon, owner of Joe Loves Lobster Rolls, who says island visitors provide the bulk of his revenue.
Herndon complimented the state's emphasis on Lowcountry tourism but said it focuses too heavily on Charleston.
Sheheen said advertising for tourism could increase statewide, calling his plan a "one-state vision" to attract visitors.
"We know states that continued to advertise through the recession saw great returns," he said. "Unfortunately, in South Carolina, all too often we did not continue to promote things like Hilton Head that are really helpful."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.