Spartanburg County’s economic forecast remains sunny

"We’re beginning to see interest from sectors and parts of the country and world that we’ve never seen before. We’re poised for another strong, if not record-breaking, year.” -Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce

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A view from the top of a 207-foot crane above the 10-story AC Hotel by Marriott. // Photographed by Will Crooks

Spartanburg County’s economic momentum is expected to pick up steam in 2018.

The Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Jan. 31, held its annual Economic Forecast Breakfast at the University of South Carolina Upstate.

Business leaders from across the county were told 21 economic development projects landed in Spartanburg in 2017, creating more than $885 million in new capital investment and 1,789 jobs.

“During the past three years, Spartanburg County has attracted $1.91 billion in investment, an overwhelming majority of the investment in the Upstate,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Chamber. “Downtown Spartanburg is on a trajectory unlike anything anyone could have predicted.

“Our secret is no longer a secret,” Smith added. “We’re beginning to see interest from sectors and parts of the country and world that we’ve never seen before. We’re poised for another strong, if not record-breaking, year.”

The S.C. Department of Commerce said Tuesday, Jan. 30, that the state completed 157 economic development projects in 2017. Those projects accounted for $5.24 billion in capital investment and 18,445 new jobs.

In terms of capital investment, Spartanburg County comprised almost 17 percent of South Carolina’s total economic development during the past year.

Smith rattled off a litany of the county’s accomplishments since 2015, including the Montgomery Building renovation, Aug W. Smith redevelopment, the state’s first AC Hotel, and passage of the “Penny Tax” to fund a new courthouse and joint city/county government facility.

He also mentioned the redevelopment of Drayton Mills, a new facility by The Children’s Museum of the Upstate off Magnolia Street, and the spate of new dining options in the community, including two restaurants by Greenville restaurateur Rick Erwin.

“If someone would’ve told me three years ago this would be possible, I would’ve told them they certifiably insane,” Smith said. “But this has been our economic reality. From my seat, I don’t see it slowing down.”

Of the economic development projects announced during the past year, 57 percent were companies expanding and 43 percent were new projects, according to the chamber’s Economic Futures Group.

Those companies represent nine different countries.

The Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau touted the combined impact of the Carolina Panthers’ training camp and Spartan Race’s Carolina Beast and Sprint event.

Those events attracted more than 111,000 visitors and generated nearly $15 million in economic impact.

Spartanburg County’s hospitality tax revenue increased 2 percent in 2017, while the city’s revenue increased more than 5 percent, according to the chamber.

Sarah House, vice president and economist with Wells Fargo Securities, presented an outlook for the global economy in 2018.

She said U.S. gross domestic product is anticipated to grow by 3 percent during the year. Business and residential investment should lead to stronger growth, House said.

Tax policy changes should provide more cash flow to companies, while consumer spending is expected to remain steady, she said.

The audience heard from a panel of leaders representing five key industries, including utilities, travel and tourism, staffing, real estate and construction, and manufacturing.

Avi Lawrence, president of Contec Inc., represented manufacturing.

Lawrence said the outlook for manufacturing in 2018 is “very positive,” but finding qualified employees and issues in the freight and trucking industry are growing concerns.

Jon Good, CEO of NAI Earle Furman, said residential and commercial development in the county will continue to “boom,” particularly along Highway 9, Highway 290, and in downtown Spartanburg.

Scott Carr, vice president of commercial business and properties for Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, praised the airport’s record passenger and cargo traffic numbers in 2017.

Carr said the airport is moving forward with GSP360, a land-use program that aims to bring development to nine large tracts of land it owns of 2,600 acres, mostly in Spartanburg County.

Sue Schneider, CEO of Spartanburg Water, said she didn’t know if tax reform would have an impact on utilities, but she said her organization will continue to move forward with its plans to renew or improve the county’s water infrastructure.

Steve Hall, vice president of business development for the staffing company Find Great People, said uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare, could impact hiring.

Hall said he expects that attracting enough talent to fill the local demand for qualified employees will continue to be a concern in 2018.

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