December 12, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a two-part story related to a statewide economic outlook study developed by the University of South Carolina.


Manufacturers such as Bridgestone in Aiken County are helping fuel steady economic growth in South Carolina, according to a recent report compiled by University of South Carolina economists.


The report, which encapsulates the past year and is set to be outlined at a conference in Columbia on Tuesday, forecasts a positive economic performance for the state next year with increased job creation and more personal income for South Carolinians.


North Augusta and Aiken, in particular, showed signs of growth in the report, trailing only Myrtle Beach in terms of employment growth from October 2013 to October 2014. The study noted that the North Augusta-Aiken area grew 3.5 percent in employment, which was largely spurred through gains in manufacturing jobs, according to Joey Von Nessen, one of the report’s authors.


“Aiken County has been a hot spot for manufacturing in the last few years,” Von Nessen said. “It has seen growth that’s been higher than the state average fairly consistently.”


He also noted that with the state’s economy anchored in manufacturing, particularly with that sector’s ties to the automobile industry, South Carolina has created a cluster of success throughout the state that should be sustainable long-term.


These continued gains in manufacturing have helped keep the entire state’s economy steady, the report states, although job creation is now shifting toward the leisure and hospitality sector, as well.


With greater economic success in the state and more consumers having disposable income, it’s increasing demand for tourism-related industries, which accounts for job growth along the coast, primarily Myrtle Beach. This is actually a change from years past when South Carolina’s Upstate, particularly the Greenville and Spartanburg area, generated the most jobs. Von Nessen noted that the manufacturing sector is still very strong in South Carolina, but the leisure and hospitality sector has “really, really picked up.”


Will Williams, president and CEO of the Aiken-Edgefield-Saluda Economic Development Partnership, indicated that the report reaffirms the job growth that he’s noted in recent years in Aiken County.


“We’ve seen the numbers that we’ve liked to see improve, improve. There are more people working and less people unemployed,” Williams said.


“Our workforce has grown by roughly 1,300 people since October 2013, and our number of unemployed has gone down from 5,864 to 5,022.”


He explained, however, that while manufacturing gains have been impressive, the overall growth rate locally can be skewed to some degree because the people incorporated into statistics, such as the employment rate and the jobless rate, may or may not live in Aiken County.


“They could work in Edgefield County, or they could work in Richmond County in Georgia, but they are still employed,” Williams said. “So if, for instance, a company in Augusta closes down, some of their workforce could live in Aiken County, then our numbers would be impacted.”


He noted, however, that despite this reality, the numbers in the University of South Carolina study are still very indicative of the way the economy currently stands locally. While Williams added that job gains are key, population shifts will also greatly impact the future economic success of Aiken County. A report released by USC Aiken in May indicated that the City of Aiken is actually approaching zero growth and Aiken County is approaching negative growth in the future.


“If new families don’t move to the area, if young people don’t come back here after school, if they don’t remain here for school, we will see negative impacts in the community,” Williams said. “When populations such as those go down, you don’t have as many people buying things. So stores may not need as many employees or they may even close because their market goes away.”


He added that off-setting those potential loses through initiatives, such as the recently approved one-percent sales tax for schools, will be vital for the community moving forward.