COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC)- Gov. Henry McMaster and other lawmakers have touted that South Carolina is “open for business,” but one of the state’s largest industries are open and still suffering.
According to University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen, large sectors of the state’s economy like manufacturing and construction are back to pre-pandemic employment levels or are close to it. However, industries related to travel and tourism, which makes up about 10 to 15 percent of South Carolina’s economy, are still not where they used to be before COVID-19.
“Except for leisure and hospitality and tourism, employment levels right now are very good. They’re actually within about one percentage point of where they were this time last year before the pandemic really hit us. But if we look and leisure and hospitality, though, it’s down still about 15%, compared to where we were this time last year,” Von Nessen said.
Von Nessen added that some industries like health care and education’s employment levels are still down about five percentage points, but on average when tourism and hospitality are excluded SC is only down about one percentage point.
The economist said the missing piece to getting back to previous employment levels is based on biology rather than economics.
He said without a widely available vaccine consumers might not feel comfortable going back to shopping, traveling, and dining out like they used to.
Von Nessen imagines two scenarios when it comes to South Carolina’s economic recovery: a widescale vaccine roll out that hits its stride before peak tourism season and one that gets going right after it.
“If we see a vaccine rollout that really hits a tipping point and gets to most of the South Carolina population by Memorial Day, by the time we normally see tourism season really ramping up, then we see consumer confidence going up at exactly the same time that the normal tourism season ramps up. And so that’s a really a double benefit for leisure and hospitality and for tourism and can lead to a strong demand across the summer and can really help us to recover,” he said.
Von Nessen predicts South Carolina’s economy will recover by the end of 2021 regardless of when exactly the vaccine rollout hits its peak, but said a strong tourism season can be “key” to the state’s economic success.