The Charleston region will see modest economic expansion this year and robust growth in 2015 with possibly 25,000 jobs created in the next five years if the area's workforce has the skills to fill the jobs.
Industries with the highest projected job growth rates in the Charleston region:
Computer and software - 20%
Science and engineering - 16%
Sales and marketing - 14%
Medical - 13%
Source: Cahrleston Metro Chamber of Commerce
Those jobs won't come all at once, according to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's economic outlook released Thursday. Employment in the Charleston region will grow by less than 1 percent this year and next year, according to the group's annual forecast.
"While the economy is expanding, hiring is still somewhat sluggish," said Mary Graham, the chamber's senior vice president of business advocacy. "While we have had some significant job announcements in the past several months, the hiring is still a ways out."
Among those announcements are Boeing South Carolina's plans to add 2,000 workers by 2020 and Benefitfocus's plans to create 1,200 jobs on Daniel Island over the next few years.
Regional unemployment will drop to 4.7 percent by the end of 2015, back to pre-recession levels, Graham said.
Two trends are driving the predictions for Charleston's growth, she said. During the last recession, the local population swelled by 11 percent, twice the national average. At the same time, Charleston's job growth rate increased by 1.5 percent while few other communities saw any net employment gains, Graham said.
National analysts predict the region's employment growth could outpace the national average by as much as 50 percent over the next five years. The fastest-growing fields will be in computers and software, science and engineering, sales and marketing and medical.
Graham also said the gap between skills needed and the higher education opportunities offered needs to be addressed to ensure enough local workers to fill the jobs that are coming.
A final chamber study on the gap is expected by June.
Turning to other sectors of the economy, Graham said home sales will continue to rise this year and construction will grow over the next few months before taking off in 2015.
"Our housing prices are out of whack compared to the rest of the country," said Chris Fraser, a real estate executive with Avison Young and the chamber's 2014 chairman. "While people may want to live here, they can't make (the jump in home values) up in wages. It just may not be as easy you'd think."
At the port, the chamber is predicting continued growth of 6 percent growth in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015. Jim Newsome, CEO of the State Ports Authority, said the agency will be investing "heavily in building" its new container terminal on the old Navy base in North Charleston.
"The biggest challenge is capital investment," Newsome said.
In tourism, the chamber predicts Charleston International Airport will reach 3 million passengers by the end of the year, helped by the recruitment of Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways over the past three years. The airport saw a record 2.9 million passengers in 2013 and projects 3.5 million by 2022. That's one reason it's adding five more gates in a $189 million makeover of the 29-year-old terminal.
Also, Charleston draws more than 4 million visitors annually and the national tourism accolades heaped on the city are helping a boom in the hotel market. More than 2,500 hotel rooms are under construction or planned for the region in the next few years.
"South Carolina, and particularly Charleston, is getting exposed to the entire world," said Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina vice president, referring to international companies that are coming to North Charleston to pick up their locally made Boeing 787s. "They see Boeing. They see BMW, and they are taking note of that. Success breeds success."
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or Abigail Darlington at 937-5906.