While the hospitality industry is making a slow recovery statewide, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and Dan Ellzey, executive director of S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, argue that the Palmetto State’s manufacturing sector and reopening schedule have helped keep its economy above water.
“The governor was measured. He was tempered, and he wanted to make sure that not only was he looking at just people’s physical health, but also their fiscal health and mental health. All those things play a part in when we shut things down,” Evette said, adding that she prefers to say that Gov. Henry McMaster put a “pause” on the state’s economic activity.
As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, McMaster tried to temporarily halt industries in a way that would have the largest impact on quelling infection without devastating the state’s economy, she said.
“We have really resilient businesses. We have the ingredients to a secret sauce that most states don’t have,” said Evette, adding that the Port of Charleston and the state’s two inland ports are key ingredients to its recipe for economic success, especially as supply chains begin to reopen.
She is hopeful that the buzz about reshoring will manifest in additional manufacturing in the state, especially as international trade regains its “sea legs” following the break down — and fears of halted distribution — of foreign supply chains during the pandemic.
“Because of the pause put on exports and imports, of course, the port is down — but that’s temporary,” Evette added.
Ellzey echoed that the timing of the reopening — and manufacturing’s role to play — made a world of difference in helping South Carolina’s recovery go smoothly, “best than the rest of the nation.”
For example, unlike some industries, many state manufacturers shuttered their facilities, but with a specific return date. Some, like BMW Manufacturing, had to alter return dates, but employees were able to await a much more structured timeline than those at companies with indefinite reopening dates.
Unemployment in June had fallen from 12% in March to 8.7% in June, according to data announced by S.C. DEW. While that is a stark contrast to December’s 2.3% unemployment, Ellzey said the month-to-month fall was a “great change.”
The state’s hospitality industry saw almost half of its 280,000 jobs disappear with the introduction of COVID-19, but Ellzey noted that at least half of the lost positions had now returned to the market.
Still, with substantial combined unemployment benefits and liability concerns, many restaurants are struggling to find workers to fill these reopened positions and keep doors open.
“Even the good, solid, financially strong restaurants are closing some locations,” Ellzey said, adding that South Carolina is one of few states to pass liability protection for businesses.
The $600 in federal unemployment benefit lapsed after July 25, but in the meantime, unemployment benefits had cut many restaurant workers a better financial deal than their former wages.
“We knew right off the bat that this would kill the restaurants, the hospitality industry, anything that pays in that price range,” he said, adding that, for the sake of restaurant operators, he remains hopeful that state lawmakers may make alterations to unemployment benefits that reflect actual wages approach moving forward.
Since the interview, on Aug. 8, President Donald Trump released an executive order that, if it stands, replaced the $600 federal unemployment benefits program with a $400 weekly check, comprised of $300 from federal sources and $100 from state sources. S.C. DEW’s website said that the agency awaits further federal guidance on the matter.