Wednesday, December 28, 2011

From the House

Bluffton Today

Mary and I hope that everyone had as nice a Christmas as our family. Despite our recent loss, we pulled together and made what could have been a less than joyful affair into one of our best ever. The miracle of Christmas has always been about gratitude.

A brief and unscientific survey of merchants around Bluffton and Hilton Head would lead me to believe that most businesses in our area are experiencing their share of thankfulness. It seems that all the “shop local” sentiment so effectively promoted by the chambers of commerce did exactly what was intended. Most of the assessments I’m hearing are somewhere between “above average” to “over the moon.” Our merchants in the Promenade and around Old Town Bluffton report that between Thanksgiving and Christmas day, sales were very strong and continue briskly so far this week before the New Year celebration.

This is right in line with what we heard recently during the economic forecast session at the USC Darla Moore School of Business. According to our very own economist, USC’s Doug Woodward: “the state’s economy is looking good…South Carolina is in relatively good shape and there is growth in the US economy where we are in a position to do fairly well.” That may not sound like high praise, but for those of us who know Doug Woodward, it almost sounds as though our own dismal scientist is succumbing to a fit of “irrational exuberance.”

There are obviously a few spots in the economy still feeling sluggish after the Great Recession, such as home sales and new construction. However, the leading indicators for these areas are looking up and we have every reason to be optimistic that 2012 is going to be a turnaround year for real estate.

The surprise, of course, is that the manufacturing sector is leading the recovery with convincing gains across the board. Bridgestone, Continental Tire, Boeing and a host of smaller manufacturing players are seeing a serious recovery. While manufacturing only accounts for around 10 percent of our jobs, my friend Bobby Hitt, SC Secretary of Commerce, told me that we have a realistic shot at increasing that to 15 percent in the very near future. In fact, South Carolina is leading the region in manufacturing growth.

According to the latest projections from the Federal Reserve, South Carolina is one of two states likely to show growth in the next six months in excess of 4.5 percent. Combine that with the national business magazine naming us as the fourth best state in the nation in which to do business and you begin to see what all the buzz is about.

I mentioned a few columns ago that we had regained our AAA credit rating. While that is good news, what it means in practical, immediate terms is we can refinance a series of bonds saving the taxpayers a little over $24 million in borrowing costs. As a member of Ways and Means, such good news and such great economic projections help to salve the lingering sting many of us felt over the austerity budgets we have crafted these last several years. Sometimes it’s hard being the budgetary grownup saying we can’t afford this program or that new highway.

For me, one of the leading local economic indicators has turned out to be the live/work units we are putting together in Old Town Bluffton. The buzz has gone from several friends and interested locals, to calls from folks in the Upstate, and now there are several parties from Atlanta and Nashville requesting information and wanting to talk about taking the concept beyond Bluffton. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, please celebrate responsibly. Sheriff Tanner and Chief McAllister will have every available unit on the road this holiday. No excuses.