S.C. Commerce: Industry investment again topped $5B

BMW announced a $1 billion expansion of its Greer plant in March.

Another year, another $5 billion.

Economic development announcements in South Carolina as measured by capital investments cracked the $5 billion mark in 2014, state officials said last week, with 146 projects supporting 19,020 jobs in the pipeline.

It was the second consecutive year business recruitment totals have topped $5 billion and the third time in the past four years. The new job total was 23 percent higher than the number announced in 2013.

Manufacturing continued to show strength in business locations and expansions in 2014, the S.C. Department of Commerce said in a statement last week. That sector accounted for 55 percent of new jobs, or 10,496 in total in 2014. Manufacturers also committed to invest $4.65 billion statewide, representing 92 percent of the annual total.

“South Carolina is leading the Southeast in manufacturing job growth,” Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said in the statement. The state’s manufacturing employment has increased 13.5 percent since January 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“And while manufacturing continues to be a major driver of our state’s economy, we are also seeing more project diversity as a sought-after location for corporate headquarters and other Class A offices,” Hitt said.

LPL Financial Holdings, the nation’s largest independent real estate broker and dealer, was the leading job creator with plans to hire 3,000 people at its new regional headquarters in Fort Mill. Health care consulting firm The Lash Group also announced plans to move its headquarters to Rock Hill, bringing 2,400 jobs.

BMW Manufacturing and Toray Carbon Fibers America led the way in the capital investment category, each announcing plans to spend $1 billion in Spartanburg County. Toray, a textiles and fibers manufacturer, will employ 500 workers. BMW is expanding its existing Greer plant to build the X7 sport-utility vehicle.

The state’s idled jobs office in downtown Charleston could be going back to work.

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce is in talks to sell its vacant building at 176 Lockwood Drive, near the city’s police station. The prospective buyer is the College of Charleston.

The sale price is $4.9 million, college spokesman Mike Robertson said. The space would be used as administrative offices for the school if the deal is OK’d by the S.C. Budget and Control Board and other officials.

“The thought is if we can move office space over there we could free up room on campus for more classrooms,” Robertson said Friday.

The building, which is adjacent to the Horizon project redevelopment, has been empty for at least a year.

The Department of Employment and Workforce, formerly known as the Employment Security Commission, moved all services from Lockwood Drive online and to its S.C. Works Center site at 1930 Hanahan Road in North Charleston, spokeswoman Mary-Kathryn Craft said. The agency has been disposing of excess real estate elsewhere in South Carolina.

After two years with little activity, a Charleston airport-related lawsuit is back on the docket.

The S.C. Court of Appeals said it will hear arguments March 3 in the case that centers on the way state lawmakers gained board seats on the Charleston County Aviation Authority.

Ed Sloan, a retired paving contractor behind the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, filed the complaint with Charleston attorney Waring Howe. Howe was chairman of the airport board several years ago.

In 2012, they sued Rep. Chip Limehouse, former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both of Charleston, and others, alleging, among other things, that the General Assembly violated the state Constitution by passing legislation specific to one county. Harrell was sued because of his position as speaker at the time.

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The law, co-authored by Limehouse in 2007, places the chairman and vice chairman of the Charleston County legislative delegation on the Aviation Authority. Limehouse alternately served in both capacities for several years. He currently isn’t serving in either capacity, is no longer on the authority (where he was chairman from 2011 to early 2013) and does not send a proxy to stand in for him.

Circuit Judge Markley Dennis didn’t rule on the merits of the case, but about two years ago he found the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, namely because Sloan lives in the Upstate. Attorneys argued the law has no bearing on Sloan. They also said Howe doesn’t have standing to sue as a county taxpayer because the Aviation Authority is not funded by local taxes, though it does receive federal dollars.

Sen. Chip Campsen is now chairman of the legislative delegation, but he believes the 2007 law is unconstitutional, so he appointed former first lady Jenny Sanford to represent him on the board. Rep. Peter McCoy is vice chair of the delegation.

If the Dennis ruling is overturned, the case would go back to circuit court for trial. A ruling there could still be appealed to the higher courts, where a final decision would settle the case.

Fox Music, an instrument store in North Charleston, was in the spotlight Thursday evening on NBC’s “Nightly News” program.

The segment, filmed in Charleston, centered on the declining demand for pianos, and how Fox Music has remained relevant over the years, despite the changing tastes in American culture.

Otto Fox opened the first Fox Music Store in Charleston in 1928. The existing location at 3005 W. Montague Ave. is run by his grandson, Charles Fox.

“If you live anywhere near Charleston, and you want to buy a piano, Fox Music Store is the place to go. In fact, it’s the only place to go,” reporter Harry Smith said as he describes how piano dealers have struggled to survive in modern times.

Smith also visited Oscar Rivers, a pianist at Morris Brown AME Church at 13 Morris St. in downtown Charleston, and called his music “heavenly.”