The year is still young - and it arrived front-loaded with a long itinerary of unresolved business items.
Here are some of the top events that are set to unfold in the Charleston economy in 2015:
A $509 million initiative to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet from 45 feet is expected to take an important - but not final - step toward reality when the Army Corps of Engineers issues its "chief's report" in late summer. The agency will use that report to show Congress that the project is worthy of federal funding. If legislators authorize the dredging, in other words agree it's worthy of federal dollars, the deepening must then go through a series of appropriations that will take subsequent acts of Congress.
Funneling federal money from Washington to Charleston could take some time, but state legislators have already set aside the state's 60 percent share. The State Ports Authority could tap that money to begin the project while it waits on the federal funding, said CEO Jim Newsome.
Changes in the global maritime business are driving the project. Ports with the deepest waterways will have a critical advantage as heavier but cost-efficient "megaships" start calling on the East Coast in greater numbers. Charleston's port currently can handle vessels carrying the equivalent of about 9,000 20-foot-long containers, depending on the tide. Once deepened, it would be able to load and unload ships with about 10,000 20-foot boxes at any time and ships with up to 14,000 containers if the tide is high enough.
Alcoa, long suggesting it could close its Berkeley County aluminum smelter unless it secures lower electricity costs from Santee Cooper, sold its 51 percent stake in October to Century Aluminum, which owned the rest of the factory.
Century officials said the $67.5 million sale would have no effect on its ongoing discussions with the state-owned utility to come to a new power agreement. But the clock is ticking. The current contract expires in December. The two parties have been talking for three years to come to a long-term deal to no avail. If a solution is not reached, about 600 jobs could be lost if Century closes the 34-year-old plant off Highway 52.
The first 787-9 to be built at Boeing's North Charleston campus will be delivered this year to United Airlines, an event that Jack Jones says is another example of how the planemaker has put its early Dreamliner production woes far behind.
"We really have stabilized," said Jones, vice president of Boeing South Carolina. "We're in a good place right now. Now, what we need to do is continue to drive productivity and learning curves to make this thing even more efficient than what we've been going through the last couple of years."
North Charleston workers began joining fuselage sections of the newest version of the 787 on Nov. 22. The site joins Boeing's Everett, Wash., final assembly plant, which began 787-9 production in May 2013. Boeing has announced that its North Charleston campus will be the only one to build the 787-10 when it starts production sometime in 2017.
"We've set ourselves up for a good run here now," Jones said.
Boeing also will continue working this year on a new paint facility in North Charleston. That investment will allow the company to paint 787s onsite rather than having to fly them to Texas.
Prepare to let your fingers do even more walking. This is the year that 10-digit dialing becomes mandatory in the Lowcountry, as the state's first "overlay" area code is put in place.
The fast-growing coastal region, home of the 843 area code, is running out of numbers. Rather than splitting the area, which would require many individuals and businesses to change numbers, regulators are adding 854 as a second area code. It means everyone with an 843 number will have to dial 10 digits to complete any call starting Sept. 19. The extra step won't affect the cost, and customers won't have to change their numbers.
Starting in March, people may start hearing messages when they place a call, encouraging them to dial an area code every time to prepare them for the 10-digit changeover. New phone accounts will be assigned the 854 code in October.
After nearly a year of planning, the city-appointed task force of tourism professionals and downtown Charleston residents has finalized its list of proposed changes to the city's Tourism Management Plan.
The list, which includes nearly 70 strategies to better manage tourist activities downtown, will be reviewed by the Planning Commission in February. If City Council votes to adopt the changes in March, it might require the city to establish a new regulator to manage the visitor industry. Other changes could bring remote parking areas, or perhaps a new visitor center on the peninsula. City planners have discussed presenting the ideas to the public at a meeting this month, but a city spokeswoman said it's unclear whether or when that it will take place.
Nearly five years after plans were announced for a new cruise ship terminal at Union Pier, the State Ports Authority will file another federal permit application with the Army Corps of Engineers sometime in the first quarter.
This will be the SPA's second application for the $35 million project, which would redevelop an old warehouse at the pier's north end. The first request initially won approval but was later tossed by a federal judge who said the Army Corps didn't fully review the effects the project would have on the Historic District.
Jim Newsome, the SPA's chief executive officer, said the new application "will have a more expansive scope of analysis consistent with the judge's order and with what the Corps expects."
The new terminal near Laurens Street would replace an aging passenger building to the south. The terminal primarily serves Carnival's Fantasy ship.
A new vehicle will be rolling off the assembly line at the Daimler plant in North Charleston. The German automaker will be reassembling a European-made midsize cargo van at the Palmetto Commerce Park factory.
The vehicle, known overseas as the Vito, will be sold under the Metris nameplate in the U.S. and Canada. The utility vans are expected to hit North American showrooms by the fall.
Daimler Vans Manufacturing also will be adding a second shift in North Charleston to keep up with North American demand for its fast-selling Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
To avoid a steep import tariff, both vehicles will be manufactured overseas, partially disassembled and then reassembled in North Charleston for delivery to dealers.
The pay-TV and Internet delivery landscape is poised for major changes as four big-time telecommunication rivals seek to combine operations and add scale. Comcast, the Charleston area's top cable carrier, expects to get approval for its $45 billion proposal to buy Time Warner Cable, which serves the Summerville area.
Meanwhile, AT&T hopes to beef up by acquiring DirecTV in a deal valued at $49 billion. Both of those companies also are big players throughout the Lowcountry. The impact on customers remains to be seen.
For more than a year, Charleston International Airport has been in the throes of a major $189 million makeover. That work will continue throughout much of the new year, but piece by piece it will begin wrapping up over the next several months.
By November, work should be completed, including five new boarding areas, a third baggage carousel, a consolidated security checkpoint, new ticket counters and a slew of other improvements for the state's busiest airport. Already finished are the rental car pavilion, the central energy plan and two ticket counters. All of the temporary walls, concrete barriers and construction signs will go away unless the board decides to add an upper level of windows to the Concourse A boarding area. That decision will be made by February.?
The Charleston housing market continues to slowly recover from the depths of the recession that started seven years ago. Home sales have rebounded and home prices have ticked up as well. The new year should offer more of the same, with global property information service CoreLogic predicting prices could rise to equal or surpass prerecession levels by mid-year in half of the U.S. market, including South Carolina. The firm says home prices will rise nationally 5.1 percent by October, home sales will jump 9 percent and housing starts will grow 14 percent.
Abigail Darlington, John McDermott, David Slade, Warren Wise and David Wren contributed to this report.