Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that employment in the Spartanburg metropolitan area, comprised primarily of Spartanburg County, grew by 3 percent during the past year.
By comparison, the Myrtle Beach metro area, made up of Horry and Georgetown counties, had the second-highest job growth since July 2016 at 2.8 percent.
The Greenville area, including Greenville, Pickens, Anderson, and Laurens counties, had the second-lowest growth in employment among all eight of the state’s eight largest metro areas at .8 percent. Sumter had the lowest job growth among those eight metro areas with a .3 percent increase in employment.
As a whole, the Palmetto State recorded its eighth consecutive year of job growth in 2017 with a 1.6 percent annual increase.
“We’re seeing that growth in manufacturing and construction,” said Joey Von Nessen, a research economist with the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. “Those are really the two leaders from a state level perspective. It’s certainly no surprise that manufacturing is doing well in the Upstate. Automotive manufacturing has been an anchor that has been driving growth for several years.”
The Charleston area, comprised of Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties, led the state in job growth in each of the previous three years. The area dropped to the No. 3 spot on the list with a 2.6 percent growth rate during the year.
Employment in the Florence area grew by 2.4 percent, Hilton Head by 1.5 percent, and the Columbia area, including Lexington, Richland, Newberry, Calhoun, and Kershaw counties, by 1.3 percent.
“There is more seasonal fluctuation and demand along the coast. Those areas have seen sizeable growth,” Von Nessen said. “The overall leader during this eight-year expansion has been Charleston. They have a strong tourism sector, a strong manufacturing sector behind Boeing and others, and the S.C. Ports Authority. But the Upstate hasn’t been far behind.”
Von Nessen said the percentages are based off of a rolling 2017 average employment figure from BLS.
The only numbers available that show actual jobs created are from the bureau’s year-end estimates for 2016.
South Carolina added 35,300 jobs in 2016.
The Charleston area saw an increase of 11,000 jobs during that same year. The Greenville area gained 5,000 jobs, Spartanburg, 4,500, Myrtle Beach 3,200, Florence 1,500, Hilton Head 1,200, and Sumter 400.
The Columbia area lost 400 jobs in 2016, according to BLS data.
Von Nessen said there have been two driving forces for the state’s economic growth during the past eight years: logistics and workforce.
“By logistics I mean we are well-positioned in the United States,” he said. “From South Carolina, you have access to the entire eastern seaboard. The same can be said for the South generally. Here we have access to the [Port of Charleston] and good highway infrastructure… It’s extremely important for a company to be able to interact with its suppliers and deliver to its customers.”
In terms of workforce, Von Nessen referenced Swedish automaker Volvo’s announcement in 2015 for its first U.S. plant in Berkeley County.
He said one of the company’s primary reasons for choosing South Carolina — in addition to the port, business-friendly environment, and experience with other premium brands — was the state’s ability to provide a ready and able employees base.
Volvo’s sentiment has been echoed by many of the new and existing companies that have chosen to relocate or expand in the Palmetto State.
“South Carolina has done a good job of linking up workers with companies through readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina [two divisions of the state’s Technical College System].”
Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt said he isn’t surprised to Spartanburg at the top of the list for job growth.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Britt said. “Over the past 25 years, more than $16 billion has been invested in Spartanburg with more than 50,000 jobs created. Sometimes when you’re in it working on these deals, you don’t get to see where you measure up. It’s nice to have someone from outside validate what we’re doing… I think it sends a message to the world that this is a great place to live, work, and play.”
Britt said 128 international companies have set up operations in Spartanburg County across a range of industries, including automotive, carbon fiber, concrete, tires, fiber optic cable, and more.
“It gets me every time somebody tells me we need to create more white collar jobs in Spartanburg County,” he said. “Every time a manufacturer chooses Spartanburg, they bring not just manufacturing jobs, but white collar jobs as well—everything from sales to engineering to finance. Given the choice, I’d rather have manufacturing than any other industry because it’s more secure. You can move an office overnight, but you can’t move a manufacturing facility overnight.”
A Jobseeker’s Market
Johnnie-Lynn Crosby, regional director of business solutions at SC Works Greenville and Upstate, said there are well over 1,000 open and active jobs available in Spartanburg County.
Crosby said the county has seen a “huge increase” in job openings related to all of the readySC projects. Those opportunities have primarily included manufacturing, distribution, and call center jobs, she said.
“It’s a jobseeker’s market right now for us,” Crosby said. “We’ve seen an explosion of opportunity not only for individuals who are qualified, but also for individuals to learn and grow with these companies.”
Von Nessen recognized that many lessons were learned after the decline of textile manufacturing, which hit Spartanburg County and the rest of the Upstate very hard.
He said he isn’t concerned that the region is once again relying on manufacturing for jobs and economic prosperity.
“We want to see diverse growth across industries,” he said. “But the depth of the cluster development we’ve seen in automotive manufacturing is a very positive sign going forward.”