S.C. Economy Weathering Covid Impacts
By David Dykes
Gusts of wind knocked over easels with posters and renderings. At least one balloon popped during a celebratory speech.
But that didn’t stop promotion of Mauldin’s promise.
Hughes Investments Inc. and the city of Mauldin in April hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for BridgeWay Station, a master planned, mixed-use development in Mauldin.
Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Rep. William Timmons, Greenville County Council Chairman Willis Meadows, and Mauldin Mayor Terry Merritt joined Phil Hughes, president and founder of Hughes Investments, to mark the occasion April 8.
BridgeWay Station will be a multiphase, mixed-use development. In addition to the 500,000+ square feet of surrounding condominiums and office space previously developed by Hughes Investments, the first phase of development will include:
• 68,939 square feet of retail
• 210,824 square feet of residential
• Approximately 73,000 square feet of office
• Approximately 81,000 square feet of
• 24,691 square feet of plaza and pavilion
• 5+ acres of parks connected to the Swamp Rabbit Trail
Future phases of development on the approximately 80-acre site may exceed 2,500,000 square feet.
With a focus on parks, plazas, towers, fully used rooftops, outdoor dining and outdoor entertainment space, community leaders believe BridgeWay will meaningfully cultivate the most successful, safe and highly desired components of large-scale, mixed-use developments to create a pedestrian-oriented, vibrant community.
The development will create thousands of new jobs, including over 1,000 new jobs in its first phase, and serve as a catalyst for economic empowerment, promote new entrepreneurs, and create a highly desirable civic destination, those leaders say.
They add the significance of those actions can only be measured in the impact to a community where the market has long been underserved and underdeveloped.
McMaster used the occasion to stress South Carolina was rebounding from the pandemic’s ill effects and investment in new businesses was accelerating.
BridgeWay Station, the governor said, is a symbol of “what we can do when we work together.”
Earlier, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Tom Barkin offered his assessment that South Carolina’s economy, indeed, has weathered Covid’s impacts better than most, with an unemployment rate at the time a full percentage point lower than the U.S. average.
In recent months, Barkin has visited parts of northeastern and Upstate South Carolina, including Greenville and Spartanburg County, to connect with workforce and community leaders about how their regions have been faring.
He spoke at a socially distant luncheon hosted by the Greenville Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission, formed to better understand inequity and disparity impacting the Black community in Greenville County.
He also spoke to Greenwood Together stakeholders as part of a one-day visit to the region hosted by the Upstate SC Alliance.
The Richmond Fed’s district spans a five-state region, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and most of West Virginia. The economic policy group tracks national and regional data, in addition to visiting companies to gather a real-time view of economic conditions and context.
In an interview in early April, Barkin said Greenville, with the nature of its industry mix, has done very well during the pandemic compared to other places. But he also was interested in job retraining and gentrification issues and constraints such as the need for more clinical placements for nurses.
Said Barkin: “There is a South Carolina model that is, and has been, extremely effective in terms of creating an environment that’s attractive for employers, attracting sizable, quality employers, investing ahead of demand, whether that be at sites or the like.
“The challenge, which is obvious, is that the unemployment rate is now low at a time when the labor force participation is also low.”
He said that can be solved in two ways: in-migration and helping prepare more people for the workforce.
In an economic indicator report in mid-April, Wells Fargo Securities Senior Economist Mark Vitner said the National Federation of Independent Business’ Small Business Optimism Index rose 2.4 points to 98.2, bringing the index back above its long-run average for the first time since November.
While that improvement is encouraging, Vitner said the rise was less than expected and in sharp contrast to the more significant gains seen in many other economic indicators.
Vitner said plans to increase staff rose four points to 22 percent, but business owners continued to report extreme difficulty in filling open positions and rising wage pressure.
Vitner cited data showing 42 percent of business owners had job openings they couldn’t fill and explained that owners were having a hard time enticing workers due to continuing fears about Covid and competition from more generous unemployment insurance benefits.
A number of business owners reported being ghosted by job applicants that failed to show up for interviews.
In South Carolina, there’s no doubt we have mountains of work ahead in many areas, especially diversity, equity and inclusion.
But with signs of progress in Mauldin and throughout the state, we have a chance.
Without them, we don’t.