USC economic outlook conference highlights pandemic recovery, challenges for 2022

(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) A man sanitizes a podium microphone in between speakers at the first meeting of accelerateSC, a group tasked with advising Gov. Henry McMaster on reopening the state's economy amid the new coronavirus outbreak, on Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Columbia, S.C.
(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) A man sanitizes a podium microphone in between speakers at the first meeting of accelerateSC, a group tasked with advising Gov. Henry McMaster on reopening the state's economy amid the new coronavirus outbreak, on Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Columbia, S.C.

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — U.S. Census data shows that South Carolina is the 10th largest growing state in the nation and the south is the fastest growing region.

Tuesday, the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business held its 41st annual economic outlook conference. Economists explained how population growth and the pandemic have impacted the South Carolina economy in the past year.

According to research economists at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, 2021 has been a good year for manufacturing, logistics and construction industries in the state.

“Really the economy is firing on all cylinders. We’ve seen broad based recovery,” said Joey Von Nessen, USC research economist. “Going into 2022, we expect for most industries to see full recovery. Tourism will continue to see a strong recovery next year.”

There will also be billions of dollars of federal government money coming to South Carolina over the next few years for infrastructure projects.

“There’s going to be an infrastructure expansion, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a generation,” said Doug Woodward, USC economics professor. “That’s a lot of jobs.”

Bureau of Labor statistics also show a pre-pandemic level of unemployment, 3.9 percent. U.S. Department of Commerce reports indicate an increase in consumer spending.

“This is an optimistic picture going into 2022,” Von Nessen said. “Of course, we recognize that inflation is a challenge. The labor shortages are a challenge for 2022 as well.”

The increase in consumer spending is resulting in businesses needing more employees.

Both economists say that the majority of people moving to South Carolina are retirees and that most college students here in Columbia are not sticking around after school. 

“They like Columbia but they just don’t see the opportunities that they see in major urban areas,” Woodward said. “Most of them say they’re going out of state.”

The capital city is also not enjoying the growth that some other cities in the state have seen, such as Charleston and Greenville. 

“All these private sector clusters of activity exist but not in Columbia. We’ve been a government and university town for many years,” Woodward said. “We’ve struggled to find clusters of activity. We have some in insurance and other things. We’ve been aware of this for some time. It’s difficult to turn that around.”

However, the turnaround after the pandemic has been better here in the Palmetto State due to targeted shutdowns and an economy relying heavily on manufacturing. 

“Not all states by any means are going to see pre-pandemic levels of employment in 2022. South Carolina almost certainly will,” Von Nessen said. “It’s a mixture of our industry composition and policy. It is definitely true that South Carolina has done better than most other states in terms of recovery.”

The economists also say that census data has shown growth in rural communities near large metro areas as people have migrated due to the pandemic. However, rural areas far from a major city have continued to struggle economically. 

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