The Midlands surprisingly outpaced the Lowcountry and the Upstate in job creation over the past year, but those gains are being undercut by a statewide jobless rate that has risen for three straight months.
Of the jobs created in the past year, 9,500 are in the Midlands, according to a report from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce released Friday.
Spartanburg created 6,400 jobs. Charleston grew by 4,500. By contrast, Greenville and Myrtle Beach shed more than 3,000 jobs each. Overall, the state posted a net gain of 11,300 jobs.
Midlands leaders attributed the local job strength to the new Amazon distribution center in Lexington County, construction jobs at the 1.23 million-square-foot Nephron pharmaceutical plant at I-77 and I-26, ambitious public building programs at USC and Fort Jackson, the growth of startup companies spun off from the USC incubator and other high-tech and entrepreneurial efforts.
“We’ve been telling people it’s the Midlands’ time,” said David King, vice president of the Central South Carolina Alliance. “And we’ve got a lot of the projects in the hopper. We’re excited.”
USC economist Joey Von Nessen said the growth in Spartanburg and Charleston was expected, but Columbia leading the state in job creation was a bit of a surprise.
“BMW is driving the numbers in Spartanburg and Boeing in Charleston,” he said. “In Columbia, it’s across the board.”
Ike McLeese, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said that government putting money into economic development was a large part of the Midlands success story.
“This is evidence that the economy in our area is coming back,” he said. “The victory with keeping Amazon and other activity at USC and the Lexington industrial parks is paying off. Governments get criticized for investing in economic development, but this is proof that it is working.”
Statewide, the picture isn’t so rosy.
South Carolina’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.6 percent in July from 9.4 percent in June, state officials announced Friday. The rate was 8.8 percent in April, a 31/2-year low.
The labor force – those working or looking for work – has fallen off by more than 8,000 in the past quarter, the most for a three-month period in nearly three years, according to U.S. Labor Department data. The number of unemployed South Carolinians has risen by nearly 16,500 in the past three months – another three-year high.
The national jobless rate increased slightly from 8.2 percent in June to 8.3 percent last month. Unemployment rates rose in 44 states in July, the highest number to show a monthly increase in more than three years.
Von Nessen attributes much of South Carolina’s job drop in June and July to public schools shedding workers during the summer. The nonfarm payroll jobs fell by 22,700 from June to July, with the majority of the decrease, 15,300, in the government sector that includes public schools .
But he said rising unemployment for three consecutive months indicates the economy is still struggling, in part due to the financial chaos in Europe.
“We always see drops in July,” he said. “But our economy is still very fragile and our recovery has slowed since the spring.”
Four to five percent of the state’s exports go to Europe, much of that BMW SUVs manufactured in Spartanburg and tires made in Greenville, Aiken and Lexington counties.
“So a struggling European economy has a real effect on South Carolina,” Von Nessen said.
S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said that the upcoming national election also is having an effect on employment as companies hold back on investments and additional hiring until after Nov. 6.
“It slows the system down as people wait to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “There is a lot of money on the sidelines. We’ll be fine. We have a lot of project queued up. We’re ready.”
The Associated Press contributed