October 3, 2015

South Carolina’s unemployment rate drops in August

A worker at a gun manufacturing plant in Columbia (File)

A worker at a gun manufacturing plant in Columbia (File)

The state’s unemployment rate saw its largest single month decline in more than three decades during August, according to new numbers released Friday.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) released the latest numbers Friday. The report said the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 percent in July to 6.0 percent in August. It was the largest one month decline reported in the state since 1983.

“It is exciting to think that more South Carolinians than ever before are working and providing for their families,” SCDEW director Cheryl Stanton said in a statement. “While we need to celebrate this, we also must continue to invest in developing a pipeline of trained workers to meet the needs of the state’s current and future employers.”

SCDEW reported that an additional 2,700 people were employed in August. Total employment was almost 2,115,000 — the highest ever recorded in South Carolina. However, the number of unemployed individuals declined at a faster rate as more than 7,900 people dropped off unemployment rolls, meaning the overall labor force shrank in August. The labor force has expanded by almost 52,000 workers since August 2014, but labor participation rates are also low in South Carolina.

The two sectors with the highest growth were Government at a net 2,800 jobs in August and Education and Health Services, with a net 1,900 jobs. The most significant losses came in Leisure and Hospitality as the summer tourism season started to wind down and a net 3,200 jobs were lost in the sector.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate was still higher than the national jobless rate of 5.1 percent.




New analysis says SC Ports generate $53 billion statewide economic impact



A new study by a University of South Carolina economics professor has determined that the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) generates $6.3 billion in annual economic activity in the Lowcountry region and $53 billion statewide.

“The Port is our state’s most strategic asset,”Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said in his annual “State of the Ports” address. “It enables South Carolina to recruit and serve the needs of companies with international supply chains, and in doing so, spurs economic development opportunities and generates well-paying jobs for people across the state. As SCPA continues to grow our volumes and modernize our facilities, there is no question that our competitiveness will deliver significant benefits to our stakeholders, the people of South Carolina.”

The study was conducted by Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist in USC’s Darla Moore School of Business. The results represent the total economic impact associated with port operations and port users at the agency’s Charleston, Georgetown, and Greer facilities during the 2014 calendar year. The impact calculations use all business activities among South Carolina firms that require a port facility to be completed.

The study identified the following impacts of port operations on Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper, Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties:

  • Approximately 11.9 percent of the total statewide economic impact attributed to SCPA benefits the Lowcountry.
  • SCPA is responsible for nearly 23,000 jobs in the region.
  • More than $1.2 billion in labor income from SCPA operations is infused into the Lowcountry economy annually.

“Port expansion is vital to the continued growth of South Carolina’s economy in the coming years, and SCPA’s strategic priorities ensure that our port system is prepared for the future,” said Bill Stern, SCPA Board Chairman. “By the end of the decade we will achieve the deepest harbor on the East Coast, open a new container terminal on the former Charleston Navy Base and modernize our existing facilities. We are well-positioned to achieve strong volume growth that will benefit not only our port, but the entire state.”

Newsome also reported a nearly 15 percent fiscal year-over-year increase in container volume in 2015, saying the Ports Authority handled 1.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Charleston breakbulk grew 7 percent over planned volumes, with 900,000 pier tons handled during FY2015. A record-breaking 253,338 vehicles also moved across Charleston docks this past budget year, which was up 15 percent from the previous record of 219,900 vehicles in FY2008.

The Ports Authority is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Charleston Harbor to 52 feet to handle new, larger container ships that are starting to arrive along the East Coast. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

Senate Democrats want SC budget surplus to go towards roads

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington

Democrats in the South Carolina Senate want an $87 million budget surplus to be directed towards infrastructure.

State legislators had already planned on having higher-than-expected tax revenues this past fiscal year that ended June 30. In the final budget signed by Gov. Nikki Haley last month, lawmakers set aside roughly half of the projected $400 million in surplus money (totaling $216 million) to go towards county transportation funds. The Board of Economic Advisors revealed last week that the state had received the additional $87 million on top of that.

State Senator Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said the current surplus of $87 million would not be much, but would provide some benefit. “It’s a $1.4 billion annual problem and so this will only be a drop in the bucket, but at least it helps,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

He said the roads in South Carolina are a major concern. “Rebuilding roads, repaving roads is the number one issue in this state. It’s what people want addressed. It affects every aspect of our life from our jobs to our transportation system.” Setzler is among the Senate Democrats who favor a proposal that increases the state’s gas tax and would raise various vehicle and license fees to raise additional money for roads.

Governor Nikki Haley outlined a proposal during her State of the State address that would gradually raise the gas tax by 10 cents up to 26 cents per gallon by 2019. But that would be offset by a 2 percent decrease in South Carolina’s income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. House members passed their own bill in April that would raise more than $300 million for roads, offer an incentive for counties to take over some roads from the state and included some income tax relief.

But both plans remain stuck in the Senate. Republicans effectively allowed a filibuster among more conservative members to stall out debate on the Senate until the regular session ended in June. Those conservatives say they will not support a gas tax increase without structural reforms at the state Department of Transportation.

Setzler said investing in infrastructure will make South Carolina more attractive to families and businesses looking for a place to call home. “Everything that we do is impacted by the roads we travel on. Our economic development is tremendously impacted by that.” Setzler said.





Chinese appliance manufacturer announces 410 new jobs at Camden plant

A Chinese appliance manufacturer is hoping to grow its share in the U.S. market by significantly expanding its Camden refrigerator plant, creating more than 400 jobs in the next five years.

Haier America (pronounced “Hire”) hopes its $72 million investment will create 410 jobs in the Kershaw County facility over the next five years. Haier plans to roughly double its current plant from 365,000 square feet to 575,000. The company hopes to finish construction by summer 2018.

“This particular expansion is about refrigerator products,” President and CEO Adrian Micu told reporters after a ceremony at the existing plant. “So we’re going to expand our lines quite significantly beyond the products that we produce today.”

The company said the expansion will eventually allow it to manufacture a half-million fridges each year. Haier bills itself as the world’s biggest appliance maker in terms of units sold, but still lags in the U.S. market behind the better known Whirlpool and GE brands.

Governor Nikki Haley also spoke at Thursday’s announcement. She touted the role of global industry in helping South Carolina’s post-recession manufacturing growth. “With more than 100,000 South Carolinian’s employed by international companies, it’s clear that the reputation we’ve earned for our workforce and business-friendly environment has made its way around the world,” she said.

Haier first opened its Camden plant in 2000. It currently has 125 employees at the site.

Tourism leaders pursuing NCAA events now that Confederate flag is gone

The Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, which state tourism leaders have highlighted as a future venue for college basketball tournaments (Image: USC)

The Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, which state tourism leaders tout as a possible future venue for college basketball tournaments (Image: USC)

Now that the nation’s largest college sports organization has dropped its postseason boycott of South Carolina, state tourism officials are hoping they can land some NCAA events in the future.

The National Collegiate Athletics Association last month announced it is ending its nearly 13-year boycott of South Carolina after state lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds.

The boycott had barred the state and its 25 NCAA college sports programs from hosting preset tournaments, although the schools were allowed to host postseason games based on seeding (for instance, colleges could still host college baseball regionals if they had the highest-seeded team). The NCAA had been the highest-profile group to honor the National Association of Colored People’s Confederate flag boycott.

Now that the flag is down, state tourism leaders are hoping to take advantage of the new opportunity as quickly as possible. The Associated Press reports a South Carolina delegation visited the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, IN this week to pitch potential facilities in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and elsewhere.

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