Myrtle Beach area leads state in retail sales, residential construction

sjones@thesunnews.comDecember 9, 2013 

Reflected on a car roof, The Townhomes at Sweetgrass Square were under construction on Pampas Drive at Shine Avenue near The Market Common in Myrtle Beach in this file photo.

STEVE JESSMORE — The Sun News Buy Photo

The Myrtle Beach metropolitan area led the state in growth of retail sales and residential building permits between October 2012 and October this year, according to statistics released Monday by the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

The data showed that retail sales grew by 6.3 percent during the year and residential building permits shot up by 78.1 percent, more than double Spartanburg, the second place finisher with a 31.4 percent growth.

The Myrtle Beach area also ranked second in employment growth, which improved 2.5 percent over the year, according to the statistics. However, it was tied with Charleston for the smallest decline, 1 percent, in unemployment.

“That’s all pretty consistent with what we’ve been seeing,” said Rob Salvino, a research economist at Coastal Carolina University.

Salvino and Laura Crowther, CEO of the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, noted that the Grand Strand had the state’s largest housing construction decline during the Great Recession, which both said set the area up for the big gains.

“It had almost come to a halt,” Crowther said of the area’s residential construction.

Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that tourism growth in 2013 has produced a 6 percent growth in admission tax collections and is on track to be one of the best years on records, despite a wet spring season.

He said that increases in tourism has delivered a boost in retail and entertainment spending.

“The forecast is encouraging and reflects growing optimism about the Grand Strand economy,” Dean wrote in an email.

Dean agreed with Crowther that at least part of the area’s residential construction surge is due to affordability of the area’s real estate.

Dean said the increase in employment is also a product of a better tourist season.

“Bringing more tourists during the shoulder seasons and continuing to lure more non-tourism jobs are essential to growing year-round employment,” he said.

Salvino said the unemployment number is the most volatile of the statistics released Monday. He said the Grand Strand’s relatively high number of part-time workers, retirees and self-employed people all influence the area’s unemployment number.

The unemployment rate in Horry County dropped significantly from last year, from 9.4 percent in October 2012 to 7.7 percent in October 2013. Georgetown County’s rate dropped from 8.7 percent to 7.5 percent.

The statewide rate in October also was 7.5 percent, the lowest for South Carolina since September 2008, when the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent. The October rate was the closest the state rate has come to the national unemployment rate – estimated at 7.3 percent in October – since September 2002.

“Although we’re creating jobs, wage growth has been relatively stagnant in some areas and too many South Carolinians are still working part-time because not enough full-time work is available,” said Joey Von Nessen, a USC economist.

Nessen said the single best indicator of economic performance is the rate of job growth, which USC economists expect to increase by 1.7 percent during 2014.

“We’ve now recovered to the point that some areas of the state have achieved pre-recession employment levels,” Von Nessen said. “Make no mistake, South Carolina’s economy is expanding.”

The construction industry, financial services, retail trade and the leisure and hospitality sector will lead the way for expansion in 2014, according to USC’s annual forecast.

“South Carolinians are spending more this year, which implies that they are more confident in the long-term stability of their employment and that they have more disposable income to spend. Both are positive indicators going into 2014,” Von Nessen said.

The Moore School issued the one-year numbers at its annual Economic Outlook Conference on Monday in Columbia.

The forecast for 2014 is for continued growth, as long as the Federal Reserve Bank doesn’t pull back on its monetary stimulus.

Salvino said that Rich Kaglic of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank spoke at the Grand Strand’s economic outlook conference earlier this year. Kaglic said people shouldn’t expect the Fed to begin tapering the stimulus until later in 2014, according to Salvino.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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