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Report: Job growth strong, but affordability an issue in region

Human Resources
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The panel at Thursday's discussion of the 2016 Economic Scorecard included Mary Graham (from left) of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Lauren Newman of Charleston Young Professionals and Carolina One Real Estate, Stephen Ramos of LS3P architecture, Erica Wright of Charleston Young Professionals and Steve Warner of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. (Photo/Kim McManus)
The average Lowcountry household spends 57% of its income on housing and transportation costs alone.

That number shoots up to 71% for low-income residents in the region.

“That’s a razor-thin margin for people, and I don’t think we’re talking about people who are significantly below our regional wage,” Steve Warner, global competitiveness vice president for the Charleston Regional Development Alliance said.

When looking at Seattle, one of eight comparative cities used in the study, the percentage of income spent on those costs lowers to 50% for typical residents and 61% for low-income residents.

Those disparities are among the findings in the 2016 Economic Scorecard. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and CRDA released the report during the Charleston Regional Business Journal's Power Breakfast this morning in North Charleston.

The data highlights the region’s struggle to retain the young professionals that continue to flock to Charleston. Around 62% of the 35 people moving to the area each day are between the ages of 18 and 44, and most are educated, Warner said.

But the high cost of housing and transportation often drive people out of the area, Lauren Newman, the Charleston Young Professionals’ chairwoman and a Realtor with Carolina One Real Estate, said.

“It’s cheaper to live in Seattle than it is to live in Charleston, and you have to keep that perspective in mind. … Young professionals are starting to feel that pressure of, ‘Can I really afford to stay here?’” Newman said. “Or they come here to explore places to live and realize that they can’t live here and they can’t move here, so it definitely needs to be a top priority when we consider recruiting top talent to our area.”

The region needs to retain these educated workers to boost the economy, wages and job creation, said Mary Graham, chief advancement officer for the Charleston chamber.

“We are doing very well in terms of economic growth. We’ve got strong job growth. We’re moving in the right direction in terms of raising wages in this community and trying to raise that standard of living, but we’ve still got work to do,” Graham said. “If we don’t address these issues we’ve been talking about in this report for the last seven years, we’re going to be in trouble going forward.”

The Charleston chamber and CRDA launched the Economic Scorecard seven years ago as the region emerged from the recession as a way to track economic gains year over year and compare that data with that of other communities across the country.

More than 15,000 jobs were lost in the Lowcountry during the downturn. From 2010 to 2015, the region created more than 50,000 new jobs overall.

“That’s really powerful,” Warner said. “That’s one in four new jobs in the state of South Carolina for that time period. … That’s incredible momentum, and with that comes a lot of challenges, like affordability and infrastructure.”

While more jobs are created and more people move to the region, wage growth tends to lag behind rising costs. Charleston’s wages have grown 32% since 2005 to $44,850. This is above the state average of $40,000 and below the U.S. average of about $53,000.

“We still have work to do there,” Graham said.

The Brookings Institution ranked Charleston No. 20 in the top 100 metros nationwide for advanced industries, which includes jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as advanced manufacturing, health care and tech sector workers.

The Charleston region has 36,000 jobs in the advanced industries sector. These positions often ripple into the region’s economy and offer higher salaries, averaging about $80,000 in the area, the report said. The region needs to focus on growing these positions and filling them with qualified workers to continue economic momentum, Warner said.

Warner and Graham pointed to the One Region Global Competitiveness Strategy as a way to bring community members together to tackle sprawl, congestion and the dearth of affordable housing that plague the region.

Erica Wright, director of Charleston Young Professionals, urged businesses to evaluate who is being asked to serve in decision-making roles during regional planning.

“We have a tendency … in this region when we’re building regional task forces, committees, boards, to go after the same people to serve. The same people that serve on one board, commission, serve on the next,” Wright said. “Freshen it up a bit. Look at diversity. Look at ­— do you have the same type of people, the same people year after year? … Think about diversity a little bit. Ask who is at the table with you.”

 

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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