Gov. Nikki Haley did her best Wednesday to promote herself as a job creator in a state with 11.1 percent unemployment and to reassure a crowded ballroom of 700 Lowcountry business and government leaders that "all is well in South Carolina."
The Republican governor gave the opening address of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's 16th annual State of the Region Breakfast on Wednesday at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa.
Haley used recent announcements by tire makers Continental and Bridgestone, which plan to expand in the state, to tout her new slogan: "It's a great day in South Carolina."
Haley instructed the directors of Cabinet agencies, which report to her, to require their employees to answer the phone by saying, "It's a great day in South Carolina. How can I help you?"
Haley said the change will boost state workers' morale, remind them they work for the callers and help her sell the state to employers.
German-based Continental Tire announced last week it will build a $500 million plant near Sumter that will create as many as 1,700 jobs.
Continental will receive $31 million in state incentives to offset costs associated with acquiring and improving a 330-acre site along U.S. 521, according to the S.C. Commerce Department. The company also received a $4 million federal community-development grant.
On Sept. 22, Bridgestone announced it would spend $1.2 billion to expand in Aiken County, creating 850 jobs. The state is giving Bridgestone incentives totaling $15.5 million, most of which will be used for site preparation.
From December 2007 through December 2009, the state lost 41,700 manufacturing jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Everybody across the country is looking at South Carolina and asking, 'What are we doing?' " Haley said. "We're focused on jobs and the economy. We are focused on commerce and tourism. ... Since January, we have announced 15,000 jobs in the state. In an economy like this, it says a lot."
The governor also boasted that Charleston was named the No. 1 tourist destination in America by Conde Nast Traveler, surpassing San Francisco.
Tourism is a $14 billion industry in South Carolina and employs about 10 percent of the state's workforce. Hotel occupancy in the state is up 2.5 percent, and hotel revenue is up about 5 percent, Haley said.
Gordon Deal, owner of Gordon Deal Publishing on Hilton Head, said Haley has been a strong ambassador for the Lowcountry and has excelled at bringing in jobs.
"The other 49 states are looking at us as a guiding force," Deal said. "The fact that we've seen an increase in the number of heads in beds across the state shows the state is bouncing back, and the growth will be there."
Haley was given a replica of the trophy awarded to the winner of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, Hilton Head's annual PGA Tour golf tournament.
Heritage Classic Foundation Chairman Simon Fraser presented the trophy, a miniature statue of tournament mascot Sir William Innes, in recognition of her work in helping to find a title sponsor for the event.
Tournament officials announced June 16 that the Royal Bank of Canada will fill that role through 2016, securing the tournament's future for the next five years. The Boeing Co. will be the local presenting sponsor, and the tournament also will receive financial support from the Town of Hilton Head Island.
"She shows attitude and hard work can make a difference," said David Tigges, chamber board chairman.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.