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S.C. economy strong amid bleak national picture

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While the nation may be in the slow lane on economic growth, South Carolina is in a region that is bucking that trend.

Clemson University economist Bruce Yandle said “when we consider the national picture and GDP growth — indicators say we are in slow gear. There is a decline in exports because of the strong dollar. We will have much less than 2% growth.”

Yandle said two regions stand out as strong in an otherwise bleak picture — the Far West and the Southeast.

“In our region we are seeing strong employment numbers and strong personal income,” he said.

According to the October economic outlook report from the S.C. Department of Commerce, the state’s total, non-seasonally adjusted, nonfarm employment rose by 9,200 net jobs to 2,068,100 in September, a 0.5% increase from August, and 2.6% higher than one year ago. The government sector added a net 12,300 jobs, leading all other sectors, followed by:

  • Education and health services added 3,500 net jobs.
  • Professional and business services netted 3,300 jobs.
  • Manufacturing added 1,500 jobs.
  • Natural resources and mining added 100 jobs.

When the economic picture is narrowed down further, Yandle said the Upstate and Lowcountry stand out as positives. Yandle said the strongest economic area of the state is the Interstate 85 corridor, because of the Greenville metro area.

“It’s strong and healthy, and I expect the strong pulse to continue,” he said.

Two counties along the I-85 corridor are losing employment — Pickens and Cherokee — the exceptions in an otherwise strong Upstate, according to Yandle.

Unlike the national picture, where manufacturing is being impacted by slowing exports because of the strong dollar, manufacturing in the Upstate is still strong, mostly because of auto-related activity. Yandle said BMW is an exception to what manufacturers are seeing, in that it continues to have strong exports.

“It’s holding its own and growing. Fold in Michelin and other auto-related industries and activity is strong in the Upstate,” he said.

Looking ahead to 2017, Yandle expects the strength in the automotive sector to possibly slow a little, “because of an increase in interest rates and a lot of people who want a new car just got one,” he said.

Inland Port Greer adds to the economic strength of the Greenville area, Yandle said. It’s now finishing its third year of operation and has exceeded what its fifth year was projected to look like. Considerations are being given to expanding, he said.

If there are any constraints on growth, it is the availability of skilled labor, Yandle said.

“Even though all kinds of programs are being put in place there is still a very tight market,” Yandle said. “Both presidential candidates said they will bring jobs back to the U.S., at least in manufacturing. But right now, we have more jobs open than people applying for them.”

Yandle said 100,000 more jobs in manufacturing are sitting open than are getting filled in the U.S.

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 720-1223.

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