Big plants boost S.C. job growth numbers

Manufacturing has powered the recovery in South Carolina since the end of the recession in 2009, and is continuing to post strong numbers in investment and job growth even as other industries begin to flex their muscle.

Manufacturing job growth in South Carolina rose 13.5percent from January 2011 – the beginning of Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration – to December 2014. That is nearly double the 7percent average of all other Southeastern states.

Economists warn that the rate of growth could level off as companies slow their post-recession expansion and skilled workers become harder to find. A stronger dollar and rising interest rates would have a negative affect on the state’s export-heavy industries, as they will cause the prices of cars, planes and tires to rise overseas.

“Anytime you have pent up demand coming out of a recession, there will be a leveling-off period,” said University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen.

South Carolina’s post-recession highs in manufacturing employment and investment came in 2011. Job growth posted gains for the first time since the beginning of the recession – 3.5percent growth – and investment logged its biggest gain – $4.71billion, according to the state Commerce and Employment and Workforce departments.

Since then, manufacturing job growth slowed to 2.3percent in 2012, 2percent in 2013 and 2.46percent in 2014, calculating yearly averages. Capital investment has remained very strong, however, but at slightly lower levels – $3.28billion in 2012, $4.46billion in 2013 and $4.42billion in 2014.

Those investment numbers are powered by recent big-time announcements such as last year’s Giti Tire plant in Chester and its promised 1,700 jobs. This year Chrysler subsidiary Daimler announced the conversion of its Charleston assembly plant to a full-fledged manufacturing plant, touting 1,300 jobs.

Another “whale,” as recruiters call big manufacturing plants, may be surfacing. South Carolina is said to be in the hunt for a Volvo auto manufacturing plant, although Commerce officials won’t comment on their efforts.

“I don’t think it’s going to slow down a bit,” commerce secretary Bobby Hitt, a former BMW executive, said of manufacturing job growth. “We’ve got a lot of jobs out there that are going to hit.”

Pro-business environment

Other sectors of the economy are catching up with manufacturing in South Carolina, as those industries finally rebound from the recession.

In 2014, business and professional services grew 18,200 jobs, compared with manufacturing’s 8,900, although many of its jobs are temporary positions offered by companies still too leery of the future to hire full-time workers.

Leisure and hospitality jumped to third, adding 7,100 jobs, as consumers had enough confidence in the economy to begin spending money on vacations and eating out, and businesses started beefing up their travel budgets.

Construction showed a mini-comeback in 2014 by adding 2,100 jobs; and, a recovered housing market means more demand for manufactured products, from refrigerators and dish washers to heating and air conditioning systems.

“You can’t pick one industry in the Southeast anymore,” said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner, saying the recovery is progressing in pretty much the same manner throughout the South.

While some industries are catching up, don’t look for a downturn in manufacturing, experts say.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a decline because of trends that transcend South Carolina,” Von Nessen said.

Increasingly, companies are choosing to build new plants and expand in the South, where labor is cheaper, unions are almost nonexistent and the climate, both business and meteorological, is favorable.

Hitt said what separates South Carolina from the rest of the pack is the port of Charleston. He said that South Carolina has become the nation’s leading producer and exporter of tires, has created an entirely new aviation cluster with Boeing, and is growing its established automotive industry with BMW and Daimler – much of it directly related to the port.

“All the numbers are going in the right direction,” he said.

Von Nessen warned that a stronger dollar and rising interest rates “are something we have to be on the lookout for. On the margins, all that has a negative impact on export activity.”

Lean, mean operations

But is the state’s success in creating manufacturing jobs outpacing its ability to train workers to fill them?

“The problem we are going to run into is the skill gap for people who are technically savvy for the jobs that are being created,” Hefner said. “I don’t know how we are going to overcome that.”

Hitt said while “labor force is something we have to work on all the time,” the state’s track record shows South Carolina technical schools and apprentice programs can deliver the workers.

“Twenty years ago when BMW came here we didn’t have any automotive workers,” he said. “Boeing has 7,500 people working there and (when it was recruited) we didn’t have any aviation workers. We’re inventing new sectors in this state and its not lost on our education community. We have young people coming out of our high schools and two-year colleges and four-year universities every day.”

Workers following the jobs here from other states also will help bridge the skill gap, Hitt said.

Manufacturing capital investment and jobs in South Carolina

  • 2006 $1.98 billion, 253,780 workers
  • 2007 $3.57 billion, 249,324 workers
  • 2008 $3.61 billion, 242,200 workers
  • 2009 $2.15 billion, 213,866 workers
  • 2010 $3.71 billion, 207,826 workers
  • 2011 $4.71 billion, 215,137 workers
  • 2012 $3.28 billion, 220,119 workers
  • 2013 $4.46 billion, 224,533 workers
  • 2014 $4.42 billion, 230,067 workers
  • SOURCE: S.C. Department of Commerce, SC. Department of Employment and Workforce

Biggest jobs announcements since 2011

  • 2,000 workers 2013 Boeing expansion, Charleston
  • 1,700 workers 2014 Giti Tire plant, Chester
  • 1,620 workers 2011 Continental Tire plant, Sumter
  • 1,300 workers 2015 Dailmer expansion, Charleston
  • 1,000 workers 2012 BMW expansion, Spartanburg
  • 800 workers 2014 BMW expansion, Spartanburg
  • SOURCE: S.C. Department of Commerce

Climbing out of the recession
Manufacturing investment and jobs numbers since the end of the recession almost 5 years ago.

  • Low point: $2.15 billion investment, 213,866 jobs in 2009
  • Climbing out: $3.28 billion investment, 220,119 jobs in 2012
  • High point: $4.42 billion investment, 236,800 jobs in 2014
  • SOURCE: S.C. Department of Commerce, SC. Department of Employment and Workforce