It feels like things are getting better

Published on December 28, 2011

By Andy Brack | Free Times

Did you hear a big whoosh this week across South Carolina? It was a collective and huge sigh of relief that the state’s unemployment rate is in the single digits again.

Even though South Carolina still has one of the highest jobless rates in the country, there’s just something about crossing into single digits that makes the future feel brighter.

And that’s news we all can use at the holidays and as we consider what’s next in2012.

Sure, the 0.6 percent drop — the largest monthly decrease for the state since 1976 –could cross back over the line in the next couple of months when the holidays pass and seasonal workers are back at home. But the jobless rate has droppedfour months in a row since August’s 11.1 percent, which was the year’s high.

Whatadds a little icing to the cake is that unemployment is down across the countryin all but seven states. Perhaps that signals how the nation really is rebounding following the so-called end of the recession a year or so ago. Muchto the dismay of many who don’t like President Obama, it also may signal that some of his economic policies to get the country more on the move are starting to work, just as some longer-term strategies by state officials seem to be bearing fruit.

Economist Harry Miley of Columbia warns the state isn’t out of the woods, but agrees things are looking up.

“The number of unemployed is still 92,000 above what it was in November 2007 andemployment is still 55,600 [jobs] below its November 2007 level,” he said. Butemployment also has increased in seven of the last 11 months and is almost 25,000 jobs above what it was a year ago. Similarly, the number of unemployed people is 22,000 below what it was in November 2010.

Alsointeresting: South Carolina’s new single-digit unemployment rate status doesn’t reflect the 17,000-plus jobs that Haley Administration officials have recruited and announced since January.

“It’s true that [announced] jobs do not always turn into on-the-ground paying jobsovernight,” said the S.C. Department of Commerce’s Amy Love. “Companiesrecruited to locate or expand in South Carolina create those jobs as new plantsor expansions are completed. For larger projects, it may take years and severalphases to ramp up to full employment. Projects located into existing buildings may come on line faster.”

That’s all good news because it means more good-paying manufacturing jobs will becomepart of the employment numbers in the month ahead and should cause the unemployment rate to continue to drop more.

FrankKnapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said smallbusinesses across the state are starting to see signs of life and see theeconomy moving in the right direction.

“To the degree they can get access to capital and money, they are creating jobs, whether that be small retail or small manufacturing,” he said.

Maybeit’s time for the state’s leaders to make a more serious effort of helping SouthCarolina’s small businesses, which seem to get a lot of attention at election time for being the “backbone of the state’s economy.” The rest of the time? The state obsesses about big companies.

Knapp suggested state legislators might want to consider creating a special smallbusiness fund set up like an infrastructure bank that would guarantee a minoritypercentage of the risk of loans covered by the U.S. Small BusinessAdministration. Even though the SBA might cover 90 percent of a bank’s risk on aloan, banks — still timid with all of the new financial requirements imposed after the Wall Street meltdown — often are reluctant to take on risk of even 10percent, Knapp said. A state-backed guarantee of just 5 percent of SBA-approvedloans with strong business plans could tip the balance so the loan would go through — and a small business could make investments that would create morejobs.

Regardless, one thing is for sure — our economic news is looking up, just as our spirits are brighter as we celebrate the holidays.

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