The Department of Commerce has recruited half as many jobs to the state so far this year than in each of the last two years, according to the agency’s November South Carolina Economic Outlook.
Commerce brought in more than 20,000 jobs in both 2010 and 2011. It had recruited fewer than 10,000 jobs by the middle of last month, the report showed.
State officials mainly down-played the slowdown while economists attributed it to uncertainty associated with last month’s presidential election and American and European economies on the edge.
Asked about the report last week, minutes after announcing Daniel Island software firm Benefitfocus would add 300 jobs over the next two years, Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t miss a beat.
“I don’t know what report you’re talking about, but I will tell you that we’re just short of 30,000 jobs that we’ve announced,” she said. “We’re at the lowest unemployment we’ve been in four years.”
She said she’s been doing “two to three job announcements per week” and, looking ahead, “the funnel is full.”
“All I want is jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said.
Other statistics in the monthly report were more encouraging, like increasing real estate activity and decreasing unemployment. But the job recruitment drop-off was dramatic.
Commerce spokeswoman Amy Love declined to explain it Friday, noting the year is not yet over and that the department is “anticipating more investments and jobs from companies we are working with.”
She also provided an updated number of recruited jobs: 10,439 as of Dec. 10. But with two weeks to go, that’s still well short of the 20,453 jobs in 2010 and the 20,013 jobs pledged last year.
Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt did not respond to a request for comment last week , but speaking in Florence on Thursday, he acknowledged 2012 wasn’t a banner year and only offered mild optimism for next year.
“Nobody likes uncertainty,” Hitt told members of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, according to a report in The (Florence) Morning News. “So everyone’s been holding back, not doing things they know they need to do; not making decisions they know they need to make. That’s understandable and as a result we’ve got about two years of projects queued up statewide, ready for something to happen.
“When all that finally breaks loose — and it will — we might just have some pretty good times around here,” he said.
Hitt said the job announcements in 2013 will likely be smaller than what the state experienced the past few years, according to the newspaper report. Most projects are expansions, Hitt said, and employers are doing more with fewer employers, or with more technology. He noted the state has been adding about 1,000 manufacturing jobs a month over the past 20 months, which leads the nation.
The Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which handles business recruitment locally, seems to have struggled this year as well.
According to reports furnished by the alliance, 867 jobs were added this year, 545 of which the organization played a part in recruiting. In 2011, the total added was 1,718, and in 2010, it was 1,813, according to the group’s reports.
Claire Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the alliance, echoed Commerce’s argument.
“Our calendar year isn’t over, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a couple more announcements,” she said.
College of Charleston Economics Professor Frank Hefner seemed to agree with Hitt, arguing the election, the troubles in Europe and other macroeconomic factors kept companies from making big investments.
“One thing about that is you can’t have a banner year every year. That just doesn’t work,” Hefner said. “Once you get a Boeing for example, what do you do next?”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.
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