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Regional Report: Economy Sizzling in the South Atlantic States

With numerous new and expanded facilities being announced in 2013 and 2014, the South Atlantic region’s string of success stories is continuing.

Directory 2015
Everyone knows it’s hot along the South Atlantic, home of some of the country’s most popular beaches. But what’s really sizzling is the economy in the states that make up this region.

The business news is full of reports of new jobs, and these states have been taking home multiple economic development honors. Among many examples, Georgia and South Carolina took home Gold Shovel awards in Area Development’s most recent ranking, while Florida and North Carolina were honored with Silver Shovel awards.

These and other recognitions have been based in large part on 2013 successes, but the positive news in the region has continued into 2014. For example, South Carolina has aspirations to be a global aerospace center, and those aspirations have continued to take shape as plans have emerged for Boeing’s facility in North Charleston. In July, the company announced it would make the longest version of its Dreamliner, the 787-10, in North Charleston. Boeing had already been talking earlier about expansion plans at that location, with as many as 2,000 new jobs in the pipeline in the next five or six years.

Success Across Multiple Industries
But Boeing is just one of many positive news stories from South Carolina, across multiple industries. Examples include the $353 million plan to develop the Haile Gold Mine in Kershaw, where 270 new jobs could result. There’s also the planned 400-job manufacturing facility for Wyman-Gordon, maker of large titanium and super alloy forgings for aerospace and power-generation users.

Even bigger South Carolina job creation is promised in York County, where independent broker/dealer LPL Financial LLC plans a new regional headquarters that’ll mean $150 million in investments through 2022, along with 3,000 jobs. That June announcement came on the very same day healthcare service provider The Lash Group announced plans for a new, 2,400-job, national headquarters campus in York County. Also on that day, Giti Tire revealed plans for its first North American manufacturing facility in Chester County, with a promise of a $560 million investment and 1,700 new jobs over the next decade.

Georgia also has spun its great 2013 into a stellar 2014. Last year was when homebuilder PulteGroup announced that its home base was moving to metropolitan Atlanta, bringing hundreds of jobs. Dalton-based Engineered Floors shared plans to invest $450 million in Whitfield and Murray counties, generating 2,000 new jobs over five years. And 2013 saw athenahealth announce an investment worth about 500 high-paying jobs.

This year Verizon Wireless unveiled plans to create 400 jobs in customer service, retail, and network and information technology. The hits kept on coming in as the year progressed. Examples include Greenway Health’s approximately 150 healthcare IT jobs in metro Atlanta; up to 700 jobs courtesy of Unisys; some 650 Kubota Manufacturing of America jobs at its headquarters in the Georgia community of Gainesville; and 700 jobs with Acuity Brands, provider of lighting solutions for indoor and outdoor applications.

Aerospace Taking Off
Things are literally taking off in Florida, where there’s plenty of life in the space and aviation sector. Brazilian plane-making giant Embraer recently broke ground on a new assembly facility at Melbourne International Airport that will make Legacy 450 and 500 planes and add 600 jobs. “We are doubling the size of our Executive Jets campus in the U.S.,” said company President and CEO Frederico Fleury Curado at the groundbreaking event, noting that there’s already one assembly line there, and that the company had recently launched its Embraer Engineering and Technology Center, its first engineering center outside Brazil. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman Corp. plans to create up to 1,800 jobs through expansions at its campus in Melbourne.

As for space, the state is rebounding well from the 2011 shutdown of the space shuttle program, building a private space program that includes such players as SpaceX, Stratolaunch, and Sierra Nevada. And Boeing this year said it would convert a former space shuttle facility in order to land, refurbish, and relaunch X-37B reusable unmanned spacecraft.

Florida’s progress can be found across multiple industries. More than a hundred new jobs will result when Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas establishes its North American headquarters in Lake Mary. In the financial-services sector, the world’s largest credit union is making a gigantic investment in Pensacola. Navy Federal Credit Union’s $350 million investment, announced in October, promises to create 5,000 jobs.

North Carolina’s diverse economy shows up in its wide range of economic development wins. Last year, a lot of job growth took place in professional/business services and financial services, with announcements from MetLife (2,600 jobs in Charlotte and Cary) and Red Ventures (600 jobs in Mecklenburg County). And there were more than 40 new manufacturing facilities announced across the state last year.

This past fall, it was global IT services provider HCL Technologies Ltd. promising 1,237 jobs at an expansion in Cary. Another 603 software-related jobs were part of a September announcement from AvidXchange, which plans to expand its headquarters operations in Charlotte. And the bio-pharma sector cheered for a 236-job announcement from Argos Therapeutics, expanding in Durham County.

The new public-private Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) helped bring the Argos project to fruition. “What’s different about our approach is that we’re marshaling public and private resources to help in North Carolina’s business recruiting efforts,” said EDPNC Chair John Lassiter, president of Carolina Legal Staffing, in a recent press release.

Foreign Investment
In June, Virginia landed a $2 billion advanced manufacturing operation planned by Shandong Tranlin Paper Co., a Chinese pulp and paper company. The Chesterfield County project is to create 2,000 jobs in the next five or six years. The company’s Chairman and President Hongfa Li cited the state’s “passion for foreign investment” among the attractions.

That huge win was joined in 2014 by quite a few other announcements of note. Examples include the $149.7 million headquarters operation in Arlington County announced by CEB, a member-based advisory company that plans to create 800 jobs when it moves in. Another 500 jobs are on the way from automotive supplier Continental, which is investing about $150 million to expand its operation in Newport News; plus 376 jobs promised by UniTao Pharmaceuticals, a company with Shanghai ownership that’s moving into an existing space in Petersburg.

West Virginia is looking ahead to healthy economic times in 2015. The Mountain State Business Index from West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research has recorded seven consecutive months of growth, tracking seven economic indicators that reveal economic expansions and contractions. Proactive moves such as phasing out the business franchise tax are creating optimism, and catching the attention of such groups as The Tax Foundation, which bumped West Virginia up the State Business Tax Climate Index significantly — from 37 a few years ago to 21 now.

The jobless rates in five of these six states have been heading downward in the past year, in some cases dramatically. South Carolina’s rate was 6.6 percent in September 2014, while North Carolina’s was 6.7 percent, both down about a point and a half from a year earlier. Florida’s 6.1 percent rate was down nearly half a percent, as was Georgia’s 7.9 percent rate. Virginia measured 5.5 percent unemployed in September, down a tenth of a percent. Only West Virginia, at 6.6 percent, had slightly higher unemployment this year compared to last.
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