In 2019 Forecast, USC Research Economists Warn Tariffs Can Block Growth

Rising interest rates and tariffs threaten an “economic tug-of-war” for a South Carolina economy that otherwise has a robust outlook with rising jobs, income and consumer spending along with lower gas prices, according to a forecast by USC research economist Joseph Von Nessen and USC research director Doug Woodward. “South Carolina’s economy remains strong. But we are in a more volatile market environment than we were last year at this time,” said Von Nessen, who predicts the state can add 6,000 jobs a year as tariffs are reduced or eliminated. The pair also sees the state’s jobless rate further declining from 3.3% to 3.1%. However, the state’s exports dropped in 2018 for the first time in connection to worries of how tariffs will impact SC automakers. The USC conference also addressed how to bring economic expansion to rural parts of the state affected by higher unemployment and job losses with a discussion on the “Opportunity Zones” initiative driven by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, included in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act to bring long-term private investment to economically disadvantaged regions.

Sumter’s Smith Replaces Anderson’s White as House Ways and Means Committee Chair

State Rep. Murrell Smith was elected to the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee after S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, reassigned Brian White, R-Anderson, to the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. “The speaker told me that the (House) Republican Caucus was not happy with my leadership of the committee, and that he wanted to make a change to a chairman who would carry out the caucus agenda,” said White, who who has been at that post since 2011. The 25-member House Ways and Means Committee annally writes the first draft of the state’s $8 billion budget. The 2019 legislative session begins in January.

Chinese Fiberglass Manufacturer Requests Tariff Exclusion to Import Machines for New Richland County Plant

Nine pieces of equipment costing more than $11 million that are required to be imported from China for the soon-to-open $400 million fiberglass manufacturing plant being built at the Pineview Industrial Park should not be subjected to a 25% ad valorem duty ordered by the White House, according to an exclusion request written by the company’s Washington D.C.-based law firm to the U.S. Trade Representative. The request is that the machine be considered “one-off” buys. “This is a somewhat unique situation,” Jushi attorney Kenneth Nunnenkamp told The State, “in that they are not looking to import large qualities (of materials) on an ongoing basis, but just need these nine items to build a factory.” The 800,000 square foot China Jushi USA plant will be the first in the United States for the world’s largest fiberglass manufacturer. Jushi officials are hiring 400 workers for the Richland County plant, which expects its initial 80,000-ton production line to begin production at the start of 2019, and the construction of a planned identical second plant would also require 400 workers. However, the tariffs would have “a crippling effect on Jushi’s ability to build and operate its production lines,” as the unwanted costs could reduce the company’s hiring decisions and maybe kill the chances of building the second plant, according to the exclusion request, which also noted, “In an ironic twist, if the Jushi production lines are not built (or during any period of delay), the net result will be continued imports of these fiberglass products from China.”

Legislators Receive ‘Roadmap’ for Tax Reform SC Business Community

The SC Chamber of Commerce unveiled a report it commissioned, “South Carolina: A Roadmap for Reform,” for legislators who are pursuing ideas for state tax reform. Written by the Washington-based Tax Foundation, the report contains four levels of “tax neutral” reform options. The “boldest” option calls for erasing corporate income taxes and licensing fees and scaling back the state sales tax to 5.25% by adding sales taxes items previously untaxed, such as banking fees, funeral expenses, gasoline, lawyer fees and water bills. The Tax Foundation notes that South Carolina is “by no means a high tax state,” but runs into serious problems because the tax code is based on decades of unaligned decision-making.

Pair of SC Tourism Departments Contribute $140K Each for ‘Today’ Show to Visit Charleston Festival

Explore Charleston and Discover South Carolina have spent $140,000 each to support the production costs needed to bring the “Today” show to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival from March 6-10, where NBC’s morning program will be featured at “several signature events” and the Marion Square Culinary Village. Charleston Wine + Food declined to say the total cost of the show, but Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb had previously visited Charleston for an hour-long “Today” program in 2013, for which the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau paid $350,000. An Explore Charleston spokesman compared the upcoming national media focus on Charleston to the 2017 eclipse, and while the tourism groups say they are suppling ideas for the coverage, “Today” producers will retain editorial control of the broadcast.