By John McDermott and Warren L. Wise of Post and Courier – Share of “FULL SPEED AHEAD”
From the docks to the employment line, the Charleston region will continue to pick up steam through 2016, with all economic indicators moving in the desired direction, according to a new forecast.
But the area’s growth — 43 newcomers a day, on average, and an estimated 25,000 new jobs by the end of the decade — is presenting some equally impressive challenges.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Center for Business Research and the College of Charleston School of Business and Economics released their annual peek into the future Wednesday.
“The forecast for 2015 shows a positive impact in every sector,” the report surmises. “With more than 25,000 new jobs forecast in the region in the next five years, both 2015 and 2016 are expected to see net gains of more than 5,000 jobs — the healthiest gain in several years.”
Among the other key projections for 2015:
The Port of Charleston will have another double-digit year, with container volume growing by 15 percent.
The region’s real estate market will generate moderate increases in building permits, home sales and values.
Retail sales will rise but slow to a 2.8 percent pace this year, down from 5.3 percent in 2014.
Charleston International Airport will welcome 3.8 percent more passengers as it wraps up the bulk of a $189 million expansion and renovation.
The visitor industry will keep chugging along, with local hotel room revenue edging up 1.9 percent.
But the short-term optimism is tempered by longer-range concerns that have no easy answers.
One of the biggest issues is ensuring the region remains globally competitive by providing companies with enough trained workers to fill higher-skilled jobs in software, engineering and other growth industries.
“The war for talent is not unique to Charleston,” said Mary Graham, the chamber’s senior vice president for advancement.
Local companies already are reporting shortages, she said.
“In some cases, employers aren’t even posting all of their job openings because they know they won’t be filled,” Graham said.
The presidents of the College of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston Southern University and Clemson University talked about workforce training at a panel discussion at Wednesday’s outlook conference. They agreed that collaboration will be the key to meeting the demand for new degrees and other educational needs at a time when funding and other resources are limited.
Graham said another thorny concern for the region is the escalating debate over how best to manage new development, especially as it pertains to building homes for the younger, tech-savvy “millennium” generation workforce.
“The push and pull that’s going with local residents who don’t like what’s being proposed … isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the demand for new housing,” Graham said.
Not everyone agrees, but the chamber has said part of the solution is to allow taller multifamily developments close to the region’s employment hubs.
“Ask yourself: Would you rather have higher density or more sprawl?” she said.
If nothing is done, Graham added, traffic congestion will deteriorate to the point where “we’re all going to hate this place.”
On a related note, the chamber asked all 500 attendees at the conference to call their state lawmakers and demand that they backfill South Carolina’s $46 billion shortfall for infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges.
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