Slow and steady.
That's how economists predict the economy will grow this year as it continues to climb out of the doldrums left by the Great Recession - with some improvement in the job market and increased consumer spending expected in 2011.
"People will begin to feel that the recession is over," said Doug Woodward, director of research at the University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business.
Tourism along the Grand Strand is expected to have another good year and will have a new, multimillion-dollar Ferris wheel to help lure visitors. Road projects along the Grand Strand will kick into gear, and the steel mill in Georgetown will restart production, bringing back jobs.
But not everything will be rosy. Foreclosures will still plague the market, and though some new jobs will be created this year, they won't be enough to match the job levels before the recession.
"There's still a lot of uncertainty in how this recovery is going to be," Woodward said.
As the recovery continues, here's 11 issues to watch in 2011:
The job market along the Grand Strand will continue its slow climb out of recessionary doldrums and unemployment rates will improve by 1 percent at most, said Robert Salvino, research economist at Coastal Carolina University. A full recovery won't come until late 2013 or early 2014, he said.
With little hiring in the tourism industry during the winter, unemployment will remain consistently high until February, said Mary Nell Smith, area director of the Coastal Workforce Center in Conway. Going into the summer, companies will likely be slow to hire again this year as they wait to see how business is shaping up for the season and how they will be affected by federal changes to the tax structure, Smith said.
"It is going to be very slow because we're still working in uncertainties," she said.
Smith said she expects many long-term unemployed to continue to run out of unemployment benefits before finding jobs, as was the case in 2010.
Hotels will go into 2011 with growing occupancy, room rates and revenue, said Taylor Damonte, director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at CCU.
"We're going to continue to see price increases compared to the previous year. How much depends largely on seasonal factors that we can't know at this point, from weather to demand for specific festivals," Damonte said.
The sheer number of tourists on the Grand Strand has likely already returned to prerecession levels, Damonte said. But there are more rooms to fill than there were before the recession, so the average hotel probably won't see its occupancy return to normal until 2012, he said.
The destination-specific marketing program, which gives $1 for every $2 in private dollars raised for advertising to a destination's designated marketing agency, will likely face its toughest fight in the state legislature since it was created. Supporters say that the program lures more tourists, which raises tax revenues, but with a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall, the program could get cut. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has received about $30 million for advertising through the program since its inception in the 2006-2007 fiscal year, including about $2.8 million this fiscal year.
The North Myrtle Beach City Council may again discuss using a 1 cent sales tax to fund tourism promotion, but the issue isn't currently on any city agendas, city spokesman Pat Dowling said. Myrtle Beach has already instituted such a tax. The issue would likely come up at the council's March budget retreat, Dowling said. The tax was discussed at last year's budget retreat but was not considered further.
Myrtle Beach International Airport is expected to have another record-breaking year and aims to serve more than 1 million passengers in 2011, airport spokeswoman Kimberly Dahlin said. That's about 150,000 more passengers than the previous record set in 2010.
Construction will continue on the airport expansion, which will increase the number of gates from seven to 13 and allow the airport to handle even higher volumes of travelers, Dahlin said. That project won't be complete until July 2012, she said.
The long-hyped Intestate 73 could gain needed funding in 2011 after nearly 20 years in the works. Congress is expected to take up a multibillion-dollar highway reauthorization act this spring. But with many legislators swearing off earmarks, it is unclear how Congress will allot money for highways such as I-73 that had previously been paid for with pork-barrel spending. The act is considered only every six years, so it could be the last major chance for the road to gain funding for quite some time.
At the state level, legislators have prefiled a bill for the 2011 session that would allow tolling and public-private partnerships to be used to finance I-73. The bill passed the House but not the Senate last legislative session, and the prefiling should increase the bill's chances of getting through both houses.
I-73 would connect Myrtle Beach to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., but has been slow to gain funding. Sen. Lindsey Graham and others have said that the road could double the number of tourists that come to the Grand Strand and lead to much-needed business development in rural areas along the route.
Other road construction projects in 2011:
The back gate | Contractors will submit bids on the project to overhaul the intersection of U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. 707 at the end of February, and construction is likely to start during the summer. The project is slated to be complete in 2014.
Harrelson Boulevard | Construction will continue on the extension connecting the road to U.S. 17 Business and is scheduled to finish by the end of the year.
Aynor overpass | Crews should begin building one bridge over U.S. 501, another over Bluewater Road and 3.5 miles of new road in Aynor this month. Completion is scheduled for November.
S.C. 707 widening | Bidding on the project will take place next year to widen the highway from Enterprise Road to U.S. 17 in Georgetown County.
S.C. 31 extension | Work has begun on extending the highway to meet with S.C. 707 and is expected to be completed in 2014.
Glenns Bay Road widening | The S.C. Department of Transportation will continue to acquire right of way for the project through spring, but construction will not begin in 2011.
For the second consecutive year, a multimillion-dollar attraction will debut in downtown Myrtle Beach, which officials say could help extend the tourist season downtown and contribute to the area's comeback.
A nearly 200-foot SkyWheel Ferris wheel and Jimmy Buffett's Land Shark Bar & Grille restaurant are expected to open in May on the oceanfront next to Plyler Park. The Ferris wheel will have 42 glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled gondolas that plan to operate year-round and give riders a bird's eye view of the city during the eight- to 12-minute ride. The massive wheel will be decked out with LED lights that will create nightly light shows.
The restaurant and retail shop, which will sell SkyWheel souvenirs as well as merchandise featuring the Land Shark Lager label, is inspired by Margaritaville's Land Shark brewing company, which is known for its navy and yellow fin-wave logo.
The $12 million to $15 million project comes a year after the $6 million, 1.1-mile boardwalk opened in Myrtle Beach. The boardwalk, coupled with the SkyWheel and Land Shark restaurant, will spark new stores to move in and others to spruce up, while also extending the summer season downtown, city spokesman Mark Kruea said.
"They will build on the success of the boardwalk last year," he said. "People will gravitate to that area because that's where the excitement will be."
Broadway at the Beach also will have a major new attraction this year when WonderWorks, a science attraction housed in an upside-down building, opens in March.
Two south-end businesses also will move to Myrtle Beach this year: Legends in Concert will move into the former Club Kryptonite spot off 29th Avenue North in March; and Nibils, which operated for more than 20 years on the Surfside Beach pier, will open in February off Kings Highway.
Results from the 2010 Census, including local populations, race and housing statistics, will roll out throughout 2011 and into 2013, leading to new county election districts and federal funding for area governments.
Officials anticipate the local populations will have grown substantially since the last census in 2000.
Horry County officials are poised to start drawing new lines for its 11 election districts once the new population arrives, Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said. County populations will be released in February, with city populations coming at the end of the year.
"You are kind of sitting, waiting until you see the numbers," she said.
The local population estimates are key because they determine how federal funding, as well as Community Development Block Grants, are divvied out to local governments.
The first batch of 2010 Census results were released in December, showing that South Carolina's population increased by 15.3 percent in the past 10 years, making it one of the 10 fastest-growing states in the U.S. and giving the state a seventh U.S. House seat. Officials will use the new population estimates to carve out that district, which some say will center on the fast-growing coastal area, especially Horry County.
Georgetown will start the new year on a good note with the restarting of the ArcelorMittal steel mill, which was once the area's largest employer.
The mill has been ramping up during the past few months, with about 30 salaried and 100 hourly employees at the plant, company spokeswoman Katie Patterson said.
"Based on current market conditions, ArcelorMittal Georgetown is on track to commence production during the first quarter of 2011," she said via e-mail.
The mill, which makes steel wire rod, shut down in July 2009, citing a drop in orders amid the recession and putting about 240 employees out of work.
Workers started returning to the mill in October, prepping the equipment to restart production and performing maintenance projects.
More workers could be hired, Patterson said.
"We are continuing to hire and retrain workers as needed," she said.
Foreclosures and distressed properties will continue to plague the real estate market in 2011, though prices on some property types should begin to stabilize.
The high unemployment rate and job loss continue to generate new foreclosures as those out of work fail to make payments, so until the area creates more jobs, foreclosures are likely to persist, said Todd Woodard, a principal at Site Tech Systems, a local company that tracks the real estate market.
The number of foreclosure filings will likely drop in 2011, but with the backlog of properties working through the legal system and being held by banks, the troubled properties will be part of the marketplace for the foreseeable future.
In 2010 it took an average of nine months for a foreclosure to work through the legal system, but with some banks delaying the start of that process some foreclosures could take closer to two years to be completed. The Horry County Master-in-Equity office, which handles foreclosures, will continue to have the help of a special referee who was brought on to help handle the heavy foreclosure case load and speed the process.
All the foreclosures and distressed properties have driven prices down, which will continue to some extent next year.
Condo prices, despite dropping dramatically in 2010, may fall still further, in part because of the lack of financing on oceanfront properties, said Tom Maeser, a real estate analyst with the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors.
"Unless the feds and banking make changes regarding investment properties, foreclosure, especially in the condominium marketplace, is going to continue," he said.
The good news is that single-family home prices, which posted some slight increases at the end of 2010, should stabilize this year, Maeser said.
The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. will continue its search for a new chief executive as it develops a strategic plan to bring jobs to the area.
The organization, which has come under fire from the Horry County Council, has struggled to live up to its mission of bringing new jobs to the area in recent years.
The EDC has tapped Strategic Development Group Inc. to identify target businesses and how to best attract them to the area. The $60,000 study, which will also help the organization determine how to measure success, should be completed by the end of March, said Doug Wendel, chairman of the organization's executive board.
That analysis will be used to develop the EDC's strategic plan and should help focus the organization's efforts on businesses most likely to come to the area.
"The end goal will be to create jobs," Wendel said.
The EDC has been without a CEO for more than a year, and Wendel said hiring a leader is important but the board has not found the right candidate yet.
"We're not in a rush to hire someone in the sense that we want to make sure we hire the right person," he said.
The EDC may also expand its board to include more community members.
The commercial real estate market is likely to continue to be shaky in 2011, with several large properties working through problems.
The Market Common is in foreclosure and parts of Barefoot Resort could be headed to foreclosure as well.
Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate services firm, has been operating The Market Common as a receiver and is looking for a buyer for the property.
A hearing with a special referee for foreclosures, which would precede the sale of the property, has not yet been scheduled but is likely to happen this year.
Businesses and shoppers haven't been affected at The Market Common and shouldn't be affected at Barefoot Resort either, officials said.
Barefoot Retail Partners, which is owned by Andrew Filipowski, has defaulted on two loans tied to property that houses the Alabama Theatre, House of Blues and Alligator Adventure. Those businesses, which lease the property, will continue to operate as usual. The restaurant and retail parts of the shopping center are not part of the foreclosure.
Another area mall aims to come back after emerging from bankruptcy a year ago.
Inlet Square mall, which struggled during the past few years, will continue to try to attract new stores and is set to have a new movie theater, bowling alley and game center this year.
An 11-screen movie theater and a family entertainment center that will have a bowling alley, arcade games and kids' rides, all operated by Frank Theatre, are scheduled to open in May. The mall is also adding food vendors.
Boeing Co. will open its new $750 million plant in North Charleston this year, and construction will get under way at Horry County's International Technology and Aeronautics Park, which will aim to lure aeronautics- and technology-related companies.
The North Charleston plant, which will assemble 787 passenger jets, is scheduled to open in July with about 1,000 employees. The number of workers is projected to eventually hit 3,800 as Boeing ramps up operations to build three of the airplanes each month.
The company has hired some workers but will continue to hire more as the opening date approaches. Boeing's move to South Carolina will be one of the main drivers of manufacturing jobs in the state next year and is one of the largest economic development projects in the state, Woodward said.
Horry County and the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. have a list of potential Boeing suppliers and are working to see if any of them would want to locate here, said Jim Papadea, Horry County property manager.
"If it's good enough for Boeing to be in South Carolina, it automatically throws us up to the top level with other aviation and aerospace companies," he said. "The thing that we've got going here that no one else has in South Carolina is one of the longest runways available and more land available for development."
Construction will begin this year on the water, sewer and roads for the International Technology and Aeronautics Park, or ITAP, a planned business park near the Myrtle Beach International Airport that will target aeronautics- and technology-related companies with the potential to bring more than 2,000 jobs to the area. The ITAP land, between 300 and 350 acres, is one of a few large parcels abutting a metropolitan runway in the state.
The construction is expected to take between eight and 10 months, Papadea said.
Once construction is under way, the county will meet with the Myrtle Beach International Airport, the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. and the North Eastern Strategic Alliance to come up with a comprehensive marketing plan for the project, he said.
Within the first half of the year, the project should receive a site certification from the S.C. Department of Commerce, which would designate ITAP as shovel-ready and speed up the permitting process for companies coming in, Papadea said.