EASLEY — Area business representatives, local elected officials, community leaders and concerned members of the public turned out for the 2018 State of the economy address presented by the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at the Tri County Technical College campus in Easley.
This year’s address once again featured Dr. Bruce Yandle as keynote speaker, Dean Emeritus for Clemson University College of Business and Behavioral Science, who spoke on both the local and national economic trends of 2017 and what we might expect in the year to come.
“When you think about the national economy, it’s been a slow-growing economy now for about eight years,” said Yandle. “I refer to it as a ‘sleepwalking’ economy … just moving along, not very gingerly.”
Yandle said two years ago gross domestic product (GDP) growth was at 1.6 percent, growing to 2 percent in 2017. He’s expecting 2018 to close out around 2.5/2.7 percent — noting the country hasn’t hit 3 percent GDP growth in the past “for years.”
GDP is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country’s economy, said Yandle. Basically, it represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period.
“Well, things in the past six months have looked pretty good but I would still say it’s sleepwalking — although maybe a little faster,” Yandle said. “And because it’s sleepwalking, you don’t want to wake it up — it might tremble, it might fall. It’s a little fragile.”
Contributing factors for the slow growth included a dwindling labor force and national insecurity concerning policy changes.
“Say you’re on the board of directors for a hospital and you’re thinking about opening up a whole new cancer wing,” he said. “Chances are if you hear they’re talking about revamping the whole healthcare system, you’re going to hold off on making that decision. People get nervous when big changes are coming and they don’t like to make any big moves. It’s the same in business.”
But while the national economy may be “sleepwalking” — South Carolina’s is not.
“We are located in one of the strongest, healthiest economic regions of the United States,” he said. “But the national economy still affects us. But our pace is much, much faster.”
North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida were the three states East of the Mississippi River with the most promising year over year growth for the past six years, he said. However, a dwindling labor force would soon become a factor for South Carolina.
Put simply, the labor force is defined as number of people who are willing and able to work. And Upstate S.C., Yandle said, was at zero.
“‘How can we be at zero?’ you ask. ‘What does that mean?’ It means we’ve hit rock bottom,” he said. “Any long term growth is going to depend upon a growing labor force — you have to have the people to do the jobs.”
Another hindrance in S.C. economic growth is actions by the current administration, he said.
“S.C. is an international economy — much more so than most people realize. Our number one trading partner — the people who buy the most goods from our state — is China,” Yandle explained. “The number two? Germany. Canada is number three and Mexico is number four. S.C. is very international. The problem is those four countries I just named have all been the targets of criticisms or tariffs by the new administration.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.