Rock Hill in state’s top 3 for job growth

City’s 2.6% increase lags only Spartanburg at 3.3% and Florence/Darlington at 2.8%

rburris@thestate.comDecember 12, 2012 

  • Economic snapshot South Carolina job growth 2011: 1 percent 2012: 1.8 percent 2013: 1.2 percent (projected) Source: USC 2012 Economic Outlook Conference

Rock Hill posted the third-best job growth numbers in South Carolina this year, as the state nearly doubled its employment growth over 2011, according to figures released Wednesday by University of South Carolina economists.

Rock Hill’s 2.6 percent job growth over 2011 came in behind only Spartanburg at 3.3 percent and Florence/Darlington at 2.8 percent.

Rock Hill’s employment growth outpaced such economic centers as Myrtle Beach (up 2.2 percent), Charleston (up 1.9 percent), Columbia (up 1.6 percent) and Greenville (up 0.1 percent).

A group of economists at USC’s annual economic outlook conference said stable growth should continue in 2013 if Congress and the president can avoid the fiscal cliff.

If Congress fails to solve the impending round of government spending cuts and higher taxes, another recession threatens to sucker punch the economic recovery percolating in the Palmetto State and across the country.

If the cliff is averted, South Carolinians can expect more jobs and higher incomes in 2013 in South Carolina, three noted economists told more than 200 business and government leaders.

A more diversified industrial base, a strengthening housing market and South Carolina’s position as a top destination for business activity in the Southeast helped form the basis for the economists’ predictions, they said.

“We look the best of all states going into 2013,” for both domestic and foreign sources of business investment, said Doug Woodward, USC Moore School of Business research director.

Employment is predicted to grow at 1.2 percent in 2013, the panel forecasts. Last year, they projected 2 percent job growth and the rate came in at 1.8 percent.

“There is a (large) amount of good news,” to report, Woodward said. “Everything is on track for a robust expansion of the economy next year.”

Congress’ final resolution of the fiscal cliff – currently being negotiated with President Barack Obama – could more than halve that projected job growth, the most important measure of economic progress in the state, the economists said.

“We are going over a fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, 2013,” said John Connaughton, Babson Capital financial economics professor at UNC Charlotte, one of the three economists who spoke. “The only question is how severe.”

If Congress and Obama fail to reach a deal by the first of the year, the U.S. economy would go into a mild recession in the first half of the year, spiking unemployment back possibly to 9 percent, Connaughton said.

But a whole host of economic perils face taxpayers next year from the negotiations, including the loss of the Social Security holiday, a 2 percent increase out of individual paychecks for a $95 billion increase to U.S. taxpayers, Connaughton said.

The end of the Bush tax cuts will add $75 billion in new taxes to be paid, while spending cuts could contract coffers by $100 billion, for a $270 billion total direct impact to the economy, roughly equaling 1.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

That could mean moderate economic growth for 2013 in the range of 1 percent or less, Connaughton said.

Unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed could be lost, health care costs could rise 3.8 percent under the Affordable Care Act, and the alternative minimum tax could hit millions more Americans under the fiscal cliff.

Meanwhile, consumer spending, business investment, net government spending and exports would all decrease, he said.

Robust national economic growth should normally range between 3.5 percent to 5 percent growth annually, Connaughton said.

“There is no good economic outcome to these talks, Connaughton said. “We’ve been borrowing and spending our way to prosperity for some time; let’s face it: We’ve got to pay the piper.”

Positively, Connaughton said he sets the likelihood of the government solving the fiscal cliff problem before Jan. 1 at about 75 percent to 80 percent probability.

Because the economy is partly built on confidence, Connaughton said it will be key that the fiscal cliff does not hurt consumer confidence, raise consumer debt, contribute to excess federal reserves, harm monthly job growth and force gasoline prices up.

Europe’s roll

Europe is another risk for the S.C. economy regarding the fiscal cliff, the economists said. South Carolina’s increasing industrial base, which includes good manufacturing numbers reflected in Boeing, BMW, and numerous tire plants in the state is tied to exports to Europe.

“Though manufacturing has largely been responsible for South Carolina’s economic recovery, we’ve started to see other industries expand this year, and we expect more diverse growth in 2013,” said Joey Von Nessen, research associate at the Moore School.

That should mean the state’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate should continue to fall in 2013, Von Nessen said, as industries such as transportation and construction pick up.

The economists said most major regions of the state saw increases in residential building permits in 2012, accompanied by three consecutive quarters of home price increases, driven predominantly by gains in Charleston.

“Residential construction turned a corner in 2012,” Von Nessen said. “Sales activity is up and house prices are rising again, which suggests a better year for housing ahead.”

Charleston also has led the state in per capita income increases this year, keeping pace with the national average, while counties such as Lexington and Greenville have lagged behind in those statistics, the economists said.

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