July 5, 2015

Port of Charleston deepening project gets key federal approval

A SC Ports Authority crane moves up the Cooper River earlier this week to make room for 2 new Post-Panamax cranes at the authority's Wando Terminal (Image: SCPA)

A SC Ports Authority crane moves up the Cooper River earlier this week to make room for 2 new Post-Panamax cranes at the authority’s Wando Terminal (Image: SCPA)

A plan that the Port of Charleston says will let it compete for huge container ships following next year’s Panama Canal expansion moved forward Thursday.

The Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project received unanimous approval from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Review Board Thursday for its Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement.

The final report will now be released to state and local agencies for a 30-day review period. Upon review from the agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers will sign the report in September and then present it to Congress. “Once the Chief’s Report is sent to Congress, authorization and funding appropriation will need to be secured to begin the construction phase of the project,” according to Lisa Metheney, Head Civilian of the Charleston District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Metheney told South Carolina Radio Network that the next step is the design phase. “We are still a few years away from the work in the harbor actually starting. Right now the next step is the design phase which will take about 18 to 24 months.”

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Despite growth in jobs, SC’s unemployment rate continues ticking upward

A road crew pours concrete earlier this month. The number of people holding jobs increased in May, but so did the number of people looking for work (Image: SCDOT)

A road crew pours concrete earlier this month. The number of people holding jobs increased in May, but so did the number of people looking for work (Image: SCDOT)

South Carolina’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate increased slightly last month, as a slow upward trend continued this year despite more people listed as working.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce did note that roughly 5,500 more people were reported as holding jobs in May than a month earlier, but the percentage of people looking for work grew at a slightly faster pace. That moved South Carolina’s jobless rate to 6.8 percent in May, up from 6.7 percent in April.

That is the highest rate in more than 18 months, since it was 6.9 percent in October 2013. South Carolina did mirror the national trend, but the Palmetto State remains well above the national average of 5.5 percent. Regionally, Georgia reported a 6.3 percent unemployment rate, while North Carolina had a 5.7 percent rate in May.

The agency  said that the number of people working in South Carolina last month reached a record of nearly 2.11 million, which 65,000 more than at the same point last year. However, the number of people listed as unemployed grew by roughly 19,000 — canceling out any gains in the state’s jobless rate.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector had the biggest job loss last month, with 3,200 fewer jobs in May compared with April. Both manufacturing and health and education showed increases of 800 jobs in May, compared with April.

Allendale County had the largest jobless rate at 11.6 percent. Charleston County had the lowest rate at 5.4 percent. However, local figures are calculated differently from state and national numbers and are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Panel OK’s Haley’s request to borrow $123M for Volvo

A legislative panel approved Governor Nikki Haley’s request to borrow $123 million for incentives promised to Volvo, but not before criticizing the interest-only financing required by the terms.

The Joint Bond Review Committee on Wednesday unanimously authorized borrowing the amount as the governor insisted, despite an influx of cash. Legislators made clear they don’t want the treasurer’s office to proceed under the approved terms.

The unconventional financing requires paying $87 million in interest because the state is approaching its limit for the type of borrowing Commerce wrote into its deal with Volvo.

The money would be part of $200 million in incentives, including land and other perks, offered to Volvo before the Swedish automaker agreed to establish its first location in the Lowcountry. The carmaker has said it will build a $500 million auto plant and employ up to 4,000 people in Berkeley County.

Haley insisted the Volvo incentives, $54 million to prepare the Berkeley County site and $69 million for roads (including a new Interstate 26 interchange) be financed through economic development bonds. She said Volvo requested that particular type of bond because it does not want to become part of a political debate.



Volvo CEO: Workers, infrastructure were key in choosing Lowcountry

Volvo executives and state officials pose during a meeting with the public on Thursday

Volvo executives and state officials pose during a meeting with the public on Thursday

The CEO of Volvo Cars North America says his company chose the South Carolina Lowcountry for its new $500 million auto manufacturing plant because of the region’s existing infrastructure for high-tech companies, a business-friendly climate and an available workforce. 

Lex Kerssemakers spoke with reporters Thursday for the first time since the Swedish company announced its plans this month to build its first North American plant in Berkeley County, creating at least 2,000 new jobs by the end of the decade and a projected 4,000 jobs by 2030. 

“We looked at more than 60 locations across the country,” he said during a visit to Charleston. “Some we left quickly, few remained towards the end. Here in Charleston and South Carolina we have found our American manufacturing home.”

The company said construction on the plant will begin this fall, with the first vehicles expected to roll off the assembly line in 2018.

Gov. Nikki Haley helped recruit Volvo personally, helped by more than $200 million in state and local incentives. She said Volvo and South Carolina will make good partners in the coming decades. “When you look at everything that is Volvo Cars, their entire focus… is about people,” she said. “And when you look at everything that is South Carolina, it’s all about quality of life for people. Our core values match.”

Kerssemakers said about 7,500 people have already logged onto a website expressing interest in working at the plant. Construction begins this fall.

Jay Harper contributed to this report

April jobless rate in South Carolina stays at 6.7 percent

The state’s jobless rate in April stayed at 6.7 percent with the number of unemployed rising by almost 1,800 people, but the number of people working reached 2.1 million. The number of unemployed  reached 151,528, up by 1,769 from the March figures according the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Darrell Scott of the department told South Carolina Radio Network Wednesday that the number of people working rose to 2,104,590, breaking a threshold. That’s an increase of 8,106 workers compared with March data. “You have more South Carolinians working, but you also have more people encouraged by the economic opportunities,” Scott said.

People working or actively looking for work, known as the labor force, is estimated by the agency at 2,256,118, up 9,875 from March. That’s a record. “You’re seeing folks who dropped out of the labor force come back in because they are encouraged by announcements like Volvo and others,” Scott said.

In March, Scott said South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. That was a tenth of a percentage point higher than the three months before. Also in March, the number of South Carolinians working increased by more than 5,800 and reached another historic high, with an estimated 2,096,110 people. Making March the 64th month in a row that employment grew in South Carolina.

The Palmetto State’s 6.7 percent unemployment rate lags the national rate of 5.4 percent, down from 5.5 percent.