On the mend

A few signs of economic recovery in the Lowcountry are (from top): increased hotel bookings; Boeing Co.'s selection of North Charleston for second assembly line for the production of its 787 jets; and big crowds at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament

COLUMBIA -- Increased hotel bookings, spending by foreign tourists and business recruitment deals are three indicators that South Carolina is pulling out of the long economic slump.

Gov. Mark Sanford got the good economic news Tuesday during a Cabinet meeting in which his agency directors told him that South Carolina is doing better in business recruitment and travel and tourism than neighboring states.

Chad Prosser, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the state's recovery is more pronounced than in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, according to a benchmark that factors in hotel stays, available rooms and the price of the rooms.

Tourism in South Carolina is an $18.4 billion industry, a number that has remained consistent in recent years.

"The travel economy often reflects what's happening in the general economy and in the business climate," Prosser said.

Hotel bookings, largely influenced by vacationers, were up in Charleston by 3.1 percent in the first quarter and the next quarter is expected to show even more life, Prosser said. Myrtle Beach is up 2 percent.

Hotel occupancy was up 10 percent during the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island in April, compared with the week of the tournament in 2009.

Greenville and Columbia had even larger increases on hotel occupancy than Charleston. Greenville went up by 6.2 percent in the first quarter and Columbia by 5.7 percent. Their rates increased more than Charleston because much of their travel is for business and such travel fell off much more during the recession than did leisure travel.

Additionally, the state ranking in international spending among foreign tourists has risen to 25th in the nation, while the state is 30th in the number of international travelers, Prosser said.

The positive economic trend also is seen in new business deals. Joe Taylor, secretary of the Department of Commerce, said South Carolina led the Southeast in job recruitment in 2009 with the addition of 18,004 new jobs, boosted dramatically by the Boeing Co. expansion. The average for the Southeast last year was 13,752, Taylor said.

Taylor delivered the Commerce Department's 2009 Activity Report to the Cabinet. The report outlines jobs and investments, and includes expansions by Google, BMW, GE Aviation and FedEx.

The recruitment targets all parts of the state with special attention to the economically depressed areas with the highest unemployment, such as Hampton, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties, which got a total of 1,139 jobs from newly recruited industry. Of all the projects recruited in 2009, 28 percent of the jobs went to rural areas that are home to 21.8 percent of the labor force, according to the report.

"This is one of the most difficult economies we've faced, the worst in many of our lifetimes, and if you don't think that the grass-roots, soil-conditions effort makes a difference, here it is," Taylor said.

Commerce's Top 10

The state Department of Commerce released its 2009 Activity Report on Tuesday. The report includes the department's choices for the Top 10 accomplishments.