Tourism is the backbone of South Carolina’s economy. Generating $18 billion in annual revenue during some of the worst economic times in American history, the Palmetto state is finally on pace to have a record 2015! Thanks in part to an economy that has stabilized and dropping fuel prices, we’ll see more families hit the road this summer to explore and enjoy our beautiful state than at any point in recent memory. That is, unless Washington’s inaction on immigration reform prevents the hospitality industry from being, well, hospitable.
The reality for those of us in the hospitality industry is that we depend on a reliable workforce in order to succeed. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling airplanes or ice cream, your business is only as successful as the team you build. Frankly, hiring immigrant workers is a win-win for the employer and employee. The employer fills an important role in the business and the immigrant worker gains valuable exposure to American business operations and culture.
While there have been efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system, Congress has been divided on the most sensible path forward. It seems that conservative votes are often lacking when it comes to immigration reform, and that simply does not make sense. Ninety-two percent of S.C. Republicans support immigration reform. Our congressional representatives have voiced favorable support for reform, but there seems to be a lack of clarity as to what that means.
As a member of the board for the National Restaurant Association, I can tell you as both a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur that our industry needs three primary measures addressed in order to allow the industry to continue to grow:
•A clear path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
•A simple, reliable federal employment verification system such as E-Verify.
•Improved border security that promotes travel and tourism.
I understand that some of these measures are controversial, and there is no easy solution to America’s immigration problem — but I’m a realist, and we need to be pragmatic when addressing these issues for the sake of expediency and common sense.
Though we have seen bipartisan legislation passed through the Senate, it died in the House. Lawmakers nationwide have struggled to send a consistent message on immigration reform — and it could start costing them their seats in Congress. The reality is that our world is ever evolving, and the population demographics in our state are changing at a rapid pace. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, from 2000 – 2010, South Carolina saw an 87 percent increase in our immigration population. Our new residents are joining the voter rolls and looking for candidates that speak to their values.