Economist predicts continued growth for York, Lancaster counties

Senior economist talks York County growth, HB2 at Winthrop University

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner discussed a variety of topics, including North Carolina's House Bill 2, job growth in York County and more at an economic forecast breakfast Friday morning Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
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Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner discussed a variety of topics, including North Carolina's House Bill 2, job growth in York County and more at an economic forecast breakfast Friday morning Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

York and Lancaster counties are seeing bullish growth, and residents should be expecting more to come, says a Wells Fargo economist.

York County’s influx of retirees from other states have been a driving force behind the county’s 6.1 percent population growth over the past year, senior economist Mark Vitner said at Friday’s Economic Forecast Breakfast at Winthrop University’s DiGiorgio Campus Center.

Meanwhile, Lancaster County has seen impressive job growth at 9.2 percent since last year, which Vitner ascribed to the state’s business-friendly attitude.

Meanwhile, Chester County should see job growth, thanks to Singapore-based Giti Tire’s new $560 million global facility in Richburg. Giti is building its first American plant in Chester County, with about 1,700 jobs expected over the coming decade.

“South Carolina has a knack for getting things done,” said Vitner. “Businesses that have relocated to South Carolina have, by and large, been successful and feed on itself.”

Shaky international markets haven’t seriously affected domestic growth, especially in Upstate South Carolina, said Vitner. Gross domestic product growth has been solid, but uninspiring, mostly due to reductions in inventories and less stability overseas, including the recent Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.

Vitner expects the Federal Reserve to raise the federal funds rate slightly this year and twice in 2017 and 2018. Should the economy remain steady, it will mark the first time since 2001 that the U.S. has gone a decade between recessions.

Still, Vitner warned the more than 100 business leaders and Winthrop professors Friday that recessions are difficult to track. He said low unemployment numbers and jobless claims can indicate a future market correction.

“The problem with being at the peak is that everything rolls downhill,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re at the peak. ... I feel like if it’s a baseball game, we’re in the bottom of the 7th inning.”

Vitner said job growth has been strongest in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southeast, with South Carolina (2.3 percent) handily beating the U.S. average of 1.7 percent. Meanwhile, he says income growth the past year in South Carolina has risen 5.6 percent, well above the U.S. average of 4.4 percent.

Vitner: HB2 hurting N.C.

North Carolina’s image is being damaged by House Bill 2 (HB2), said Vitner.

Vitner said the law, passed in March by the N.C. House of Representatives, will hurt Charlotte’s image as a progressive city.

The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act has faced widespread criticism: Repeal advocates have railed against the law’s elimination of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, and legislates that in government buildings, individuals may only use the restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.

Earlier this week, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it was moving all neutral-site conference championship games out of North Carolina due to the law. The move came soon after the NCAA decided to shift seven championship events from North Carolina, including the opening two rounds of the 2017 men’s basketball tournament.

“It’s somewhat ironic that Charlotte’s trying to be progressive and this law is passed which is disturbing the hornet’s nest,” said Vitner. “I don’t think Charlotte’s image will be hurt that much over the long run. ... Most folks feel this will be settled fairly soon by the courts, and if it isn’t, the costs will continue to build.”

‘Elephant in the room’

A Wells Fargo executive acknowledged the ‘elephant in the room’ prior to Vitner’s appearance on-stage and issued an apology following the bank’s recent fake accounts scandal.

Jay Everette, senior vice president and community affairs manager, said the company has taken steps to identify its mistakes and move forward.

Last week, the San-Francisco-based lender agreed to pay $185 million in fines to federal regulators over allegations that employees opened 2 million banking and credit-card accounts without their clients’ knowledge in order to meet internal sales targets. The bank has fired 5,300 workers over the scandal.

“We’re in the media right now, and not for the right reason,” said Everette. “I think it’ll be a classic business case that business students will study. What happens when a company has core values that we aspire to and value, but their actions within the environment of the company don’t match those core values. ... If in some way, shape or form, this incident has made you think differently about Wells Fargo, we apologize and hope that you accept our apology.”

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is being called to testify at a hearing later this month before members of Congress over the bank’s sales practices.

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham