North Charleston, S.C.—20,000 new jobs—that’s what the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce expects in the next 2 years. They hosted their annual Economic Outlook Conference on Thursday. They reflected on the region’s economic growth over the last 25 years and gave a forecast for what is to come in the next 18 months.
The Lowcountry’s economy is booming. The airport is expanding, the port is getting deeper and Volvo is coming. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 81,” says Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Bryan Derreberry. “People are impressed with what we have in our region.”
He describes what sets us apart. “Advanced manufacturing, ports, military, travel and tourism, IT software—we have a robust pie when it comes to our economy. Most places are dependent on 1 or 2 business clusters and we really have 7 that are doing extremely well.”
The chamber’s Chief Advancement Officer, Mary Graham explains how this growth started. “20 something years ago we just wanted to replace the jobs that were lost by the Navy base, but over time that has evolved into bringing in jobs that pay higher wages so that we can increase the standard of living for all citizens in our community.”
The average price of real estate has increased by 238%, retail spending has tripled and our population size has doubled. Chairman of the Board Scott Woods says those numbers will continue to go up.
“The military presence here, the aerospace, the vehicles, the port—all of those bring money to the area. It raises the standard of living for all people. As they make more money, they buy more services, they buy more houses and that’s where the benefit comes from.”
The chamber says all of that starts with job growth. “High quality, high paying jobs, states Derreberry. “That means we’re going to have people that have better livelihoods who are able to turn around and do all the things with those disposable dollars that we want them to do in an economy.”
Progress like this comes with challenges too. For example, the stress it puts on our infrastructure. “We have seen a bill pass through the senate that would provide about $400 million in new funding for South Carolina’s roads and bridges,” says Graham. “That’s a positive thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address some of the needs we have like adding additional capacity or expanding roads in certain places. We still have challenges here in the region.”
However, Graham says the problem is also part of the solution. “[The economic growth] is bringing more money to our community. It helps property values go up so there are additional revenues that are generated for local and state governments.”
Volvo Vice President of Purchasing and Manufacturing Katarina Fjording was the key note speaker at the meeting. Volvo will bring 2,000 jobs to the region initially and that number will multiply. Access to our ports is an obvious reason why the car manufacturer chose the Lowcountry, but Fjording said it was also because of how our businesses work together.