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Raises approved for workers at SC research company

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The board overseeing a South Carolina company that fosters technology jobs approved Thursday increasing employees' pay by $290,000 in an effort to make their salaries more competitive.

The executive committee of the South Carolina Research Authority approved an average pay raise of 6.5 percent. Amounts will vary by employee, with some of the 240 getting nothing. Raises should come in November checks. Officials said they could not provide a breakdown, saying that's yet to be worked out.

Only chairman Bill Masters objected: "At a time when the state is going through extreme financial stress, I can't support it," said Gov. Mark Sanford's appointee.

But other members said the company is losing employees and prospects because of its low pay. Officials said 10 percent of employees left last year, an unusually high turnover rate for the high-tech industry.

Base salaries at the company, created through a 1983 state law and expanded in 2005 _ over Sanford's objections _ are at 25 percent of the national market average of high-tech industries, with bonuses boosting some pay to nearly 50 percent, according to a salary study by the Hay Group consulting firm. Officials would not give reporters copies of the study, saying the details could hurt the company's ability to compete.

The board's intention is for the 6.5 percent base pay raise to be the first increment of a three-year process, with two more at 6.5 percent each, though those will be voted on later.

Chief Executive Officer Bill Mahoney, whose salary is $237,100, said the company is self-supporting and has grown by 60 percent annually for several years. Since 2005, he said, revenues have increased from $75 million to $172 million. He said the company's revenue largely comes from federal defense contracts, and low salaries could hamper efforts to continue to grow.

Since 2006, the company has gotten between $2 million and $6 million from private donors who can get state tax credits, with the latter representing 4 percent of the company's operations, Mahoney said.

"It would be very foolish and shortsighted to get mediocre people at low salaries. Our salaries are at the bottom," said Larry Wilson, a committee member and partner with a venture capital firm. In research technology, he added, "talent is the only thing that makes a difference, and you can't get talent on the cheap."

A Sanford spokesman said the vote provided lavish raises that are an affront to taxpayers.

"Only in state government can raises of almost $300,000 be dished out with seemingly no recognition of the fact that state government is facing a billion dollar shortfall next year," Ben Fox said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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