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The Associated Press August 30, 2011, 9:32AM ET

SC gov announces rebranding of workforce centers

Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday touted a rebranding of more than 50 centers that serve the unemployed in South Carolina, saying the shift is part of her efforts to tackle the state's high jobless rate.

The announcement of the change from SC One Stop to SC Works comes after the July unemployment rate increased to 10.9 percent, tying as third-worst nationwide.

"What we're saying is we're revamping the way we do things," Haley said.

A local consulting firm was hired to come up with the new brand, and a marketing campaign of the new SC Works image began Monday with TV commercials statewide, said John Finan, outgoing director of the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

"SC Works shows the emphasis on what we're trying to do and that's put people back to work," Finan said.

The federally funded campaign cost $468,000 total, with $203,000 buying commercial air time, said agency spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell.

Haley said the centers must focus on matching the unemployed with open positions.

"The only way we're going to connect the dots is through training," she said.

The biggest immediate change is that the unemployed will undergo an assessment when they initially file for jobless benefits. Fairwell said that assessment will immediately determine their job skills and potential training opportunities, rather than being asked to come back later for that.

If people apply for benefits online, as a new Web site allows, they will be asked to come in for the assessment, she said.

Haley also announced a change in the board that oversees the federally funded job training programs offered at the centers. She says half of the board's 31 members are from the business community, rather than 30 percent, and led by Michael Johnson, CEO of Cox Industries in Orangeburg. The first meeting of the new board appointed by Haley is in September. The former board last met in January. The board normally meets at least once quarterly.

The Haley administration provided the media a list of the board members' names and hometowns. It did not include the businesses or industry each represented.

The board also now includes four legislators: GOP Reps. Mike Forrester of Spartanburg and Tommy Stringer of Greer, GOP Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek, and Democratic Sen. Kent Williams of Marion.

"As the state board comes up with initiatives, we've got some legislative input," Finan said.

Haley also announced South Carolina has begun repaying the $963 million the state borrowed from the federal government to cover jobless benefits amid chronically high unemployment rates and the economic downturn.

Haley signed a letter to the Labor Department on Friday paying back $115 million. In November, $68 million will be paid back, Finan said.

"This will put the trust fund back on the road to solvency," he said. "Eventually in 2015, when the loan is fully paid off South Carolina businesses will see a huge decrease in unemployment insurance taxes."

Haley said changes in the jobless benefits system mean the state will not need to borrow from the federal government anymore, despite continued high unemployment.

The overhaul included a repayment plan legislators approved last year that increased taxes for employers with the worst records for firing and laying off people. In June, Haley signed into law a bill that cuts the number of weeks the jobless can receive in state benefits from 26 weeks to 20, reducing the combined state and federal benefits from 99 weeks to 77. It also limited unemployment benefits for people in seasonal jobs.

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