Charleston is bright spot in S.C.'s economy

USC economists Joey Von Nessen, left, and Douglas Woodward

COLUMBIA – Charleston's sizable college-educated population, port operations and global tourism designation make the area South Carolina's strongest economic engine.

University of South Carolina economists Douglas Woodward and Joey Von Nessen delivered the news Wednesday at the 31st annual Economic Development Conference.

The state's unemployment rate is expected to linger around 10 percent for the year next while the manufacturing industry is expected to make gains. The economy will remain fragile, but South Carolinians should see incremental gains in job growth and personal income.

“It is looking pretty good,” Woodward said. “I am fairly optimistic.”

South Carolina's urban areas, especially Charleston, are out-performing the nation. In addition to the port and the new Conde Nast tourism ranking, Woodward said Charleston's diverse economy is its strength with growth in the knowledge-based economy and a vibrant health care industry.

“Charleston is healthiest part of the state right now,” he said.

The area also earned the designation in the last decade as having the country's biggest increase in the population's share of college graduates at 32 percent.

The state's biggest challenge is the national and global economy, Woodward said.

Woodward also gave a shout-out to Gov. Nikki Haley's Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt for a “major renaissance” in the state's manufacturing sector. Hitt has made more job and investment announcements in his first year on the job than was expected, Woodward said.

The Haley administration announced the relocation to South Carolina of two of the world's biggest tire manufacturers earlier this year.

Woodward said he thinks South Carolina is also benefitting from a 35 percent duty charge President Barack Obama, with the OK of the World Trade Organization, imposed on tires manufactured in China.

The volatile nature of gasoline and food costs are a concern, Woodward said. The retail sector is showing some growth, but it's sluggish, he said.

“It's not going to be gangbusters,” he said. “Consumers are spending. That's good for the economy, at least in the short term.”

Read more in Thursday's editions of The Post and Courier.