More business investment, more jobs promised, falling unemployment rates whats not to like about the 2013 economy for York, Chester and Lancaster counties?
Investment in new or existing business in the three counties totaled more than $750 million. More than 5,000 jobs were promised, and many have been filled.
The November unemployment rate for the three counties was in single digits for the first time since 2005. Yorks rate for November was 7.1 percent while the national rate was 7 percent. The rates were 8.1 and 9.4 in Lancaster and Chester, respectively.
Especially important was the return of manufacturing jobs to the region. Two of the biggest plants are Chinese owned.
In Chester County, JN Fibers of Zhejiang, China, announced it will invest $5 million and hire more than 300 people at a plant that will recycle discarded soda and water bottles and transform them into recycled polyester staple fibers for use in home textiles, furniture, upholstery and automotive industries.
In Lancaster County, the Keer Group, based about two hours from Shanghai, China, will invest more than $218 million and hire 500 people to produce industrial cotton yarn. Construction could start as early as February.
In York County, Britax, Shutterfly and Physicians Choice decided to relocate from Charlotte, investing a combined $103 million in new facilities. The companies employ more than 1,000 people combined. But many of the workers kept their Charlotte homes, merely extending their commute a few more minutes.
Retail operations also saw big changes in 2013. Cabelas Christmas present to those who love the outdoors was its Dec. 19 announcement that it will tear down the Plaza Fiesta site next to Carowinds and invest millions in a new building. No specific dollar amount was announced but the outdoor retailer plans to hire up to 225 full- and part-time workers.
That number, however, is offset by the closure of several businesses at Plaza Fiesta, the largest being Hamricks. The clothing store is looking for a Rock Hill location.
Belk completed its renovation and expansion at the Galleria store, and Sams Club opened down the road.
Major changes to the areas grocery retail market were announced this year. Several stores were sold or swapped, and Wal-Mart began efforts to become a dominate retailer in Rock Hill by announcing plans to open several smaller neighborhood markets and one more super center.
Publix announced plans to acquire several Bi-Lo stores to enter the Rock Hill market. Publix will have stores in former Bi-Lo locations on Cherry Road and at the corner of Heckle Boulevard and Herlong Avenue. Harris Teeter was acquired by Kroger, and Piggy Wiggly sold some of its stores.
Plans for the Wal-Mart stores must be approved by the city.
What will the result of all the competition be? Lower prices? Some analysts say grocery profit margins are already so thin that it will be difficult to cut prices. Will one, or more, chain groceries be leaving the area?
Like years past, having a highly skilled workforce remains the top priority and challenge for the region. But it is likely to be more acute as Rock Hill moves forward with the Knowledge Park, an economic development project that calls for redeveloping the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing textile site. The vision is to attract technology companies and good-paying jobs.
Yet even the city and the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. acknowledge the area doesnt have enough qualified tech workers to make the strategy work. Finding more ways to educate, or attract, tech workers to our area will be a big challenge for 2014.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066 • firstname.lastname@example.org