By Greg Oliver (Contact / Staff Bio)

WALHALLA — Though they didn’t call him by name, members of the Oconee County Legislative Delegation made it perfectly clear Friday morning that Gov. Mark Sanford’s well-documented personal problems are having a negative impact on economic development in the state.

“I know the climate is not beneficial,” State Sen. Thomas Alexander, who represents Oconee and and a portion of Pickens County, told school board, school administration and city and council representatives in his opening remarks. “I’ve talked to people from other areas of the state and they tell us we have some problems going on — from the top I guess you would say.”

Sanford has been under fire since late June, when he first told reporters that his unexplained absence that occurred over several previous days was due to hiking the Appalachian Trail. However, on June 25, the governor admitted in a news conference that he was in Argentina to visit his mistress.

Despite calls for the governor to resign, a cry also echoed from a number of his fellow Republicans, Sanford has steadfastly refused.

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, of Seneca, among the General Assembly members calling for Sanford to step down, said the state has taken a huge hit in economic development as a result of the negative publicity the governor has generated.

“Our situation that Thomas referred to is a huge handicap for South Carolina to recover,” Sandifer said. “I feel, at some point, that has to be addressed.”

Sandifer said he recently met with former Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat who preceded Sanford and is currently working as an economic development recruiter for the state. During their conversation, Hodges confirmed just how severe the fallout has been from business and industry since the governor’s situation came to light.

“He has talked to several companies and they say ‘no way, no how’ under the current situation,” Sandifer said. “That gives you an idea of how pervasive the situation is.”

State Rep. Bill Whitmire, of Walhalla, did not comment as to whether the governor is negatively impacting economic development in South Carolina during his remarks.

While legislators are concerned over the lack of new economic development taking place in the state, Sen. Alexander said the General Assembly must also focus on keeping existing industry intact.

“We need to do all we can to maintain the jobs we have to make sure the companies we have here are competitive in this worldwide economy and we need to provide the focus to help them be successful in our community,” Alexander said.