Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ The state budget could provide $200,000 to a program that aims to boost the Lowcountry’s economy by helping exiting Marines find jobs locally.

The Senate’s spending proposal for 2014-15 designates the money to the Transitional Workforce Education Assistance Collaborative, or TWEAC, which the Lowcountry Economic Alliance launched in 2012 to assist those leaving the military from one of Beaufort County’s three bases.

About 1,000 military service members transition into civilian life yearly from the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, or the Beaufort Naval Hospital. The goal is to keep their expertise in South Carolina, said Kim Statler, the alliance’s executive director.

“We’re concentrating on the labor pool we’re now exporting,” she said. “We want to keep them in the Lowcountry and Beaufort, if we can, as part of our economic engine.”

She noted that pilots and others leaving the Air Station can help grow the aviation industry, as the area south of Boeing’s South Carolina facility seeks to become an aviation supply hub.
Whether TWEAC will get the state allocation is uncertain. A compromise committee of House and Senate members will likely begin meeting this week to hash out differences in the chambers’ proposals for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The program complements Operation Palmetto Employment, a statewide effort that Gov. Nikki Haley launched in February to help find a job for transitioning military service members of every branch, as well as veterans and spouses.

That initiative expands what the South Carolina National Guard has been doing since 2011, which has brought the unemployment rate among Guard members from 16 percent down to 3.4 percent as of this month. The effort involves matching military skills to a civilian job and educating employers on the benefits, said Allison Caldwell, a Guard spokeswoman.

South Carolina is home to eight military bases, located near Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia or Sumter.

Each community has its own job-finding program for exiting military. Operation Palmetto Employment seeks to unite all of their efforts, providing job seekers a statewide view of the available jobs and giving employers one place to call.

“Each military community operates in its own silo. Now everybody is working with one common purpose,” said Kyle Caldwell, manager of the Guard’s employment services. Operation Palmetto Employment “will eventually be the bridge that links the military toemployers … We can bring it under one table, with one mission.”

He is in the process of visiting all of South Carolina’s bases. Employers’ hiring commitments under the program should be announced this summer.

While the state’s overall unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in April _ a 13-year low _ the jobless rate for young veterans who served in the military since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is nearly 11 percent. The unemployment rate for all veterans in the state is 4.1 percent, the sixth lowest nationwide, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.