On the Upswing at Last

Positive construction numbers something to celebrate

03/09/2013 12:00 AM

03/08/2013 3:49 PM

Spring is nearly here. Blooms are starting to peek out and pollen will soon fill the air. It’s an optimistic time of year as the world wakes from its wintry slumber, and this year we’ve got even more reason for optimism: building signs are popping up around town, and construction sites are buzzing once more.

The national jobless report released Friday morning held good news for all of us concerned about the economy, but particularly good news for our region, as many of our main industries were among the top job creators. Construction businesses added 48,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality added 24,000. And retailers added 23,700. All three are major drivers of our local employment situation, and after years of attempting to claw our way out of the hole dug in the recession, it’s encouraging to see some daylight at last.

Locally, it’s not time to dance in the streets quite yet, but perhaps a quick shimmy or two might be in order. Just driving around the county is enough for anyone to see that development – almost entirely frozen for the past few years – is perking back up. New buildings are going up. Land is being cleared for future use. And plans long dormant are being revived.

The Sun News’ Dawn Bryant reported just this week that Myrtle Beach’s first new hotel in four years is in the works. And other projects continue to pop up, like a new marina on the north end, plans for the first new fishing pier in years, and retail development – which faces sometimes stiff opposition – in Pawleys Island.

For now though, much of the increased activity is in the construction of single-family homes, good news for both the local construction and real estate industries. “New home construction is up, certainly, compared with the last two or three years,” said Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea. “Other construction has picked up a bit, although it’s nowhere near the pre-recession levels.”

With four months left in Myrtle Beach’s fiscal year, building permits have already surpassed the number issued in all of 2010-2011.

In North Myrtle Beach, city spokesman Pat Dowling said they’ve also “seen an upswing in single family home construction.” The city has issued 90 permits so far this year, compared with 68 in the same period last year.

And Horry County has also seen impressive growth. “Things are picking up!” said county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. Residential building permits have outpaced the previous year every month so far this fiscal year. By the end of February, the county had issued 1,055 residential permits, up 63 percent from the 648 issued in the same period last fiscal year. Construction permits of all kinds were up 9 percent, from 4,449 to 4,841.

What do all the numbers mean? More building, more growth, more development and – most importantly – more jobs.

With a return to growth comes familiar problems of course. We’ve already seen beloved businesses such as Myrtle Beach’s Veterans Cafe and Pawleys Island’s Gullah O’oman Museum forced out of their locations to make way for more lucrative options. And growth will always compete with conservation, as we balance the needs of a growing and prosperous population with the need to preserve our natural surroundings. And there’s always the traffic.

But on the balance, new building and more building is a wonderful change for an area long stuck in the development doldrums. As Kruea noted, we’re “nowhere near the pre-recession levels,” but the numbers and the activity we’re seeing are a long-overdue step in the right direction. Fingers crossed, it’s only the beginning of a bigger bounce back.

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