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Volvo is hiring hundreds of workers to staff its new manufacturing plant in Ridgeville. More than a quarter of Charleston-area businesses say they expect to expand their payrolls in the next few months, but they face an exceedingly tight labor market. File/Grace Beahm Alford/ Staff

A growing number of Charleston businesses are hoping to staff up, according to a new survey of the region’s hiring outlook, but they're up against the tightest labor market in decades.

A survey conducted by the human resources consultancy ManpowerGroup shows that just over a quarter of Charleston-area employers plan to expand their payrolls in the next three months. The results suggest that businesses are growing their ambitions after a hiring slowdown last year.

The same survey suggests that layoffs will still be few and far between: Only about one business in 33 says it expects to reduce its workforce in the third quarter.

But even if job security is robust, there’s little assurance that businesses’ hiring plans will come to pass because unemployment is exceedingly low.

The jobless rate in the tri-county area fell to 2.3 percent in April, matching its lowest point since at least 1990. Across Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, only about 8,700 people were out of work and looking. Nearly 365,000 people, meantime, were employed.

The hiring ambitions are as real as the help wanted signs springing up in stores and restaurants, said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. But without higher pay or perks like flexible hours, they might be in for a long search.

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“At some point, you start losing business if you can’t provide, and you can only ask so much of your current staff,” Hefner said. “The big optimism here is that they’ll be able to find somebody.”

The uptick in expansion plans around the Lowcountry mirrors an increase statewide, according to Manpower. Some 28 percent of employers across South Carolina plan to grow in the next few months, outpacing the national average.

Those businesses cut across industry lines. The survey found that virtually every major sector in the state’s economy was poised to expand.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.