Grand Strand, Charleston and Hilton Head Are Helping to Lead South Carolina's Economy

Economic development along the Grand Strand has helped to drive the South Carolina economy in 2016, experts say.

“Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head have been shining spots for the state and that is due to construction,” said Dr. Joey Von Nessen, research economist at the University of South Carolina.

Three of the state’s highest rates of employment growth were found along the coast in 2016:

  • Hilton Head area, 3.2 percent

  • Greater Charleston, 2.8 percent

  • Grand Strand, 2.6 percent

Job creation often leads to wage gains. Hourly earnings rose 6 percent in Charleston between October 2015-October 2016 and 5.5 percent in the Myrtle Beach area during the same time period, well above the 4.4 percent state average.

A pickup in the housing market, as well as the impact from storms in each of the past two years, have contributed to job growth, according to USC experts presenting at the school’s annual Economic Outlook Conference.

“Housing markets are doing incredibly well in 2016,” after “lackluster” growth in 2010-15, Von Nessen said. “We’re still seeing dollars being invested in the state for rebuilding efforts.”

Von Nessen and USC colleague Dr. Doug Woodward estimate that rebuilding activities from the 2015 flood will have created more than 20,000 temporary jobs in the construction and retail sectors by the time rebuilding is complete. They said Hurricane Matthew is expected to produce a similar, but smaller, economic impact.

Construction employment has grown 12.3 percent in the Myrtle Beach area and 9.8 percent in greater Charleston.

In a conversation with South Carolina CEO, Josh Kay, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., agreed that construction, particularly residential construction, is pacing job growth in his community.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in permits,” he said. That includes residential and commercial construction.

While seniors continue to flock to the Grand Strand, Kay said “a really close second is the young family, the 20-30-year-old.” He said he’s seeing residential construction in a variety of locations and price points.

The next biggest driver of recent job creation in the Grand Strand is health care. As in other parts of the state, advanced manufacturing also plays a role, according to Kay.

“We have a growing aviation sector,” he said.

In July, the S.C. Department of Commerce announced that Arizona-based Kingman Airline Services planned to hire approximately 180 employees and invest $2.5 million in an Horry County aviation maintenance facility.

In May, MBREDC announced that Executive Helijet planned to add 75 jobs and invest approximately $1 million in its current maintenance and flight services operations at North Myrtle Beach Airport and Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Some of the local wage growth is due to economic development strategy, according to Kay.

“Any project that we announce is offering wages at or above the county average,” he said. The 2015 average in Horry County was $15.99 per hour, he added.

Job and wage growth helps create additional demand for housing, producing a self-sustaining element for construction job gains.

“Construction is expected to continue to be a driver in 2017,” Von Nessen said.

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