Sunny S.C. economic outlook

  • Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 9:51 a.m.

Economic forecasts, like weather forecasts, aren't always accurate. But this week's positive projections for our state do deliver some figurative sunshine.

As reported on the front page of Tuesday's Post and Courier, the University of South Carolina's annual economic outlook report, released Monday in Columbia, predict 1.7 percent job growth in the state during 2014.

No, that's not a particularly robust figure.

Yet keep in mind that if it proves correct, it will continue an upward employment pattern that's emerging not just in South Carolina but across the nation.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.0 percent in November - the lowest level in five years.

The S.C. unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in October (November's state numbers haven't come out yet) - also the lowest level in five years.

And the economic picture again is even brighter in the Charleston area than in the state as a whole.

As Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist at USC's Moore School of Business, told our reporter Monday: "Charleston has been, over the last couple years, a leader in the post-recession economic recovery."

That leading role has been reflected in jobless rates well below the state average. In October for instance, while that state unemployment level was 7.5 percent, the rate in our tri-county was roughly 6 percent.

Meanwhile, though the local real estate market suffered some setbacks over the last few years, the downturn wasn't nearly as acute here as it was across much of the country.

Now the Charleston area housing market is bouncing back strongly. From our story:

"The S.C. Realtors Association recently reported the region of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties tallied 10,780 homes sold for a median price of $205,000 through the first 10 months of this year. That's the highest volume of sales for any region in the state and $48,000 higher than the average median price for homes sold in South Carolina, according to the data."

And as College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner told our reporter: "We are looking at jobs growth in the Lowcountry. It's got to its previous highs in 2012. Here we are in 2013 and we are above the highs of the pre-recession."

The Columbia and Greenville areas appear primed to sustain encouraging economic trends of the past year, too. Prof. Von Nessen reported that the state's economy is already expanding at a higher rate than it did before the Great Recession hit in late 2007.

The construction, financial services and hospitality sectors have all contributed to that climb.

However, the manufacturing sector remains a crucial front in this ongoing mission. And last week, Gov. Nikki Haley received the 2013 Roger Milliken Defender of Manufacturing Award from the S.C. Manufacturers' Alliance.

Since Mrs. Haley was sworn as South Carolina's chief executive in January 2011, state officials have announced 233 manufacturing expansions and openings, resulting in 26,000 new jobs and more than $8 billion in capital investment.

Unfortunately, though, there are still pockets of painfully high unemployment in our state, mostly in rural counties - Marion, for instance, had a 14.1 percent jobless rate in October.

But at least that was much lower than the 17.5 percent rate of October 2012. And persisting economic development efforts to bring jobs into economically blighted areas will keep making progress.

Of course, fair-weather economic forecasts and improving jobs numbers offer limited consolation to the far too many South Carolinians who want but can't find jobs.

Again, economic predictions don't always come true.

Still, it's encouraging to see unemployment rates falling in the tri-county, state and nation.

It's also reassuring to know that expert forecasters are predicting more economic sunshine to come.

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