Horry County was just one of three counties in South Carolina that saw its unemployment rate rise from November to December, while the state as a whole had a rate that was below the national average for the first time since January 2001.
Numbers released Tuesday morning by the state Department of Employment and Workforce showed that Horry posted a 7.8 percent jobless rate in December, up 0.1 point from November but down 3.2 points from December 2012.
Unemployment in Horry County normally rises during the winter because of a drop in tourism, but this year’s gain from November to December was significantly less than it has been for any of the five preceding years, said Rob Salvino, an economist at Coastal Carolina University.
In December 2007, the unemployment rate rose one point from November, a figure that jumped to a 2.1 point increase the next year, 1.4 points in 2009 and 0.8 point to 1 point from 2010 to last year, when December’s unemployment rate was 11 percent.
Given that context, Salvino said, a 0.1 percent rise is an improvement.
Brad Lofton, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said he’d like to see the Strand’s off-season unemployment even out. He said that new employers recruited by the EDC plus some expansion jobs from existing businesses could add 400 to 600 new jobs this year.
The EDC is scheduled to announce Wednesday afternoon another new employer recruited to Horry County, and Lofton said additional businesses are planning to expand their workforce as well.
Stag Arms, a Connecticut gun manufacturer, could add to that list within a couple of months, if it decides to locate an expansion plant in Horry County rather than Houston.
Stag CEO Mark Malkowski said Tuesday that the company had hoped to make a decision sooner, but encountered a setback on delivery dates for the equipment it will use in the new location. Additionally, he said it has taken the company longer than anticipated to get some information that it needs to make a decision.
He said the company still plans to set up an expansion operation outside of Connecticut, where it is headquartered.
If it does locate here, it would be the third firearms manufacturer to announce a presence in Horry County in the last year.
PTR Industries, the first of those, recently began work in its new headquarters at the Cool Springs Business Park near Aynor, and Ithaca Gun plans to start building its Cool Springs facility this spring. Lofton said he expects that PTR will hire 40 to 50 employees this year.
Another significant new employer will be StarTek, which is setting up a call center and will hire at least 615 people over the next two years. Lofton said that 200 to 250 of those jobs will be filled this year.
“Seasonal employment will still exist,” he said.
But he hopes with more new employers and expanding businesses, the swing will be more in the 6 percent to 8 percent range rather than the 6.5 percent to 10 percent range.
The state’s numbers show that total employment in the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area fell by 2,700 jobs from November to December.
Normally, Salvino said, “We would lose a couple thousand jobs or more, sometimes 4,000.”
While there was a 2.3 percent drop in the number of area jobs in December, there were still 3,100, or 2.78 percent, more jobs this December than a year earlier.
Salvino said the area’s unemployment rate normally peaks in January before the tourist season rebound begins in February.
In December, Horry recorded the highest unemployment rate among the state’s most populated counties. The next highest among the big counties was Richland, which had a December rate of 5.9 percent unemployed, according to DEW.
Georgetown County’s December unemployment rate was unchanged from November at 7.1 percent, 2.6 points lower than December 2012.
Statewide, the unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in December, a 0.5 point drop from November and 0.1 point below the national rate of 6.7 percent.
The other two S.C. counties with higher rates in December were Allendale, where the rate climbed more than 1.5 points from November to 14.3 percent unemployment, and Hampton, where December’s 9.4 percent unemployment was 0.4 points higher than November.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.