Outlook for 2014: Business forecast calls for year of growth and change
Through good times and bad, the Charleston region has been a survivor with an economy that tends to adjust, grow and diversify.
Put another way, it's rarely boring in this neck of the woods, and 2014 isn't likely to disappoint business news junkies on that front.
Here's a rundown of some of the more notable front-burner business issues in the year ahead.
Outlook: The rapidly expanding aerospace giant is poised for more growth in South Carolina, having submitted plans to triple its footprint at Charleston International Airport after promising 2,000 more jobs and another $1 billion investment by 2020.
The company hasn't said what it intends to do with 468 additional acres it has secured, though it does plan to build a new paint facility for the 787 Dreamliner near the existing S.C. Research Authority campus.
Also, the company intends to begin assembling the 787-9, a stretch version of the current model, by the fall in North Charleston, where some parts for the longer model already are fashioned.
The more tantalizing speculation for 2014 is where Boeing will make the even longer 787-10. That will be answered in the first quarter. Some analysts have strongly suggested that South Carolina is a shoo-in for the "dash-10" line.
There's also the question of where the 777X jet will be built. Boeing plans to finalize that decision in the new year as well.
Outlook: Could 2014 be the year when the long-running dispute over Charleston's growing cruise ship industry finally gets put to rest?
Exhibit A is a new passenger terminal that's been part of a plan to redevelop Union Pier in downtown Charleston for several years. But the $35 million structure remains on hold because of litigation.
A coalition of environmentalists and local neighborhood groups has filed federal and state lawsuits, saying the project will bring more tourists, traffic congestion and pollution to the Historic District. A judge recently ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers redo the study that was part of the approval process for the terminal. The State Ports Authority and the Army Corps have appealed that decision. Mediation has been scheduled for January.
Then there's the appeal before the S.C. Supreme Court, alleging that Carnival Cruise Lines' year-round operation at Union Pier violates city of Charleston nuisance ordinances. The high court already has heard oral arguments, but it has yet to make a ruling.
SPA spokeswoman Erin Pabst declined to speculate about how the legal disputes will proceed in the new year. Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, one of the groups fighting the new terminal, expects progress in 2014. But he also said he thinks there's "an extremely low probability" that all the issues will be resolved next year.
Outlook: The residential real estate market really snapped back to life in 2013, posting robust gains every month in both volume and values.
And local experts are predicting that a continued trend of attractive mortgage rates and home prices will continue for more months to come.
Figures for December won't be out for a couple of more weeks. But through November, 11,801 residences had changed hands at a median price of $206,000, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. That's a 22 percent gain in transaction volume and an 8 percent increase in the median sales figure.
That momentum is expected to spill over into the new year, said Corwyn Melette, the group's 2014 president.
"We expect to see healthy growth in sales and a sustainable increase in the median sale price," he said. Even with mortgage interest rates creeping steadily higher, we don't anticipate it having a negative impact on sales," Melette added.
The biggest uncertainty for the industry is the threat of skyrocketing rate increases for government-backed flood insurance policies. Some sales already have fallen through because of the issue.
Outlook: The development of shopping centers and other residential-driven retail outlets has been lacking for several years since the last recession. But that began to change last year, paving the way for more brick-and-mortar retail investment in the new year and beyond.
Bass Pro Shops recently confirmed it's on the way to North Charleston as an anchor tenant in Ingleside Plantation between Interstate 26 and Palmetto Commerce Parkway. Construction on the massive outdoor recreation shop will begin in 2014, and should wrap up about a year later.
The Corner at Wescott, a retail center under construction on Dorchester Road in Summerville, has lined up 16 tenants, including Marshall's and Rack Room Shoes. Harris Teeter, the anchor tenant, announced it will open Jan. 8.
Meanwhile, H&M, a global retailer specializing in affordable apparel for men and women, announced it would open a second Charleston location that it will build from scratch in Tanger Outlet Center by fall. And Charlotte-based Belk also is aiming for an autumn completion, as it overhauls of its Mount Pleasant Towne Centre location. Belk is expanding and converting the space into one of the chain's new breed of "flagship" department stores.
Outlook: Plans for nearly a dozen new hotels were set forth this year for Mount Pleasant and downtown Charleston, which will add at least 1,800 more rooms to the market. Many of those, such as the Patel Group's 165-room hotel at 415 Meeting St., will begin rising in 2014.
The Charleston area saw record levels of interest from hotel developers in 2013, and many plans that sat dormant during the recession were revived, altered and reapproved.
The industry in Charleston and across South Carolina has surpassed pre-recession levels of success, and industry professionals expect it to keep surging ahead next year.
"Nearly all indicators in 2013 show that we will finish above where we were in 2007, and in 2014, the prospects look very good as well," said state tourism chief Duane Parrish.
Outlook: The fate of South Carolina's certificate-of-need program, which regulates the number of hospitals, hospital beds and medical equipment purchases in the Palmetto State, hangs in the balance in 2014.
In 2013, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed $1.7 million in funding for the program from the state budget, effectively suspending it for a year. The S.C. Supreme Court is expected to decide in early 2014 if the state's health department can continue enforcing an unfunded program.
While the S.C. Hospital Association favors restoring it, Haley said in a statement that the certificate-of-need program restricts access and drives up health care costs. "We're for competition, and since taking office, have fought for better health for all South Carolinians - that's what this is all about," she said.
Outlook: Last year, South Carolina saw its biggest-ever merger of two in-state banks. This year, the deal will begin to come together.
First Financial Holdings Inc., the owner of Columbia-based SCBT and First Federal Bank of Charleston, teamed up in August, but the two lenders have since maintained their own corporate identities.
That's about to change. A new name and logo for the combined banks are expected to be announced in February. At the same time, First Financial will start realizing some of the cost savings it's expected to yield from the $447 million deal.
First Financial plans to close 20 offices statewide in 2014, or about 14 percent of the total, starting this month. That includes five in the Charleston region, all of which will be combined with nearby branches. Most are within a half-mile of one another, the bank has said. The closings will be completed by August.
Outlook: One of the region's biggest and earliest technology darlings is getting a new leader to propel its business to another level. Blackbaud Inc. announced in November that its board had tapped Michael P. Gianoni to become its fourth full-time CEO.
He starts Jan. 13. He also joins the board of the Daniel Island-based company, which develops software and services for nonprofit organizations and has operations around the world.
The firm has said the 52-year-old Gianoni "brings extensive experience critical to Blackbaud's growth, operational excellence and market leadership goals." Previously, he was a group president at Fiserv Inc., which develops tech products for the financial industry.
"His significant experience and expertise in software solutions and product development make him the ideal candidate to lead Blackbaud during its next phase of growth," Andrew Leitch, Blackbaud's chairman, said in a statement.
Outlook: South Carolina Electric and Gas Co.'s roughly 300,000 customers in the Charleston area will see their bills calculated differently starting in January to reflect the actual electricity they use.
The state Public Service Commission in December ordered the Cayce-based utility to end its complicated bill-adjusting practice called Electric Weather Normalization Adjustment, a method of determining customer charges based on 15-year average temperatures.
The regulatory agency called the program, launched in 2010 to protect customers against billing spikes during extreme weather, confusing and unpredictable and so complicated, only SCE&G can determine if customers were correctly charged.
Abigail Darlington, John McDermott, Tyrone Richardson, Lauren Sausser and Warren Wise contributed to this report.