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York County sees an uptick in wages and job growth, but what about tomorrow?

Downtown Rock Hill
Robert Pascucci
Downtown Rock Hill

York County added 1,000 jobs and saw an 11.6% uptick in wages over the past year – all while keeping the unemployment rate below 4% for a second straight year, according to a Tuesday report from York County Economic Development (YCED).

That’s the good news, driven largely by the addition of four manufacturing and tech companies: PDM U.S., Pallidus, Silfab Solar, and QTS Data Centers.

The not-so-good news is that the previous quarter saw slower commercial activity in the county that YCED Executive Director David Swenson says is generating some worry over growth ahead.

“There's concern on the horizon with the national and international economies, high interest rates, concerns that might still remain from supply chain [issues],” Swenson said. Plus, this being a presidential election year, commercial growth “tends to be a little bit pause and wait.”

Something Swenson is keeping an eye on more broadly, as are most who watch the commercial real estate sector, is the potential for a crash, particularly in the office space subsector.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley sounded the alarm a year ago that half the country’s commercial mortgages that will be up within two years – totaling $2.9 trillion – are unlikely to be renewed, as office space vacancies are at a 20-year high, following COVID-19 reorganizations in the workplace.

Some in the commercial real estate field, like U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, R-5th, who made his fortune developing York County, are “absolutely” concerned what might happen if those leases stay dormant.

“COVID changed the landscape,” Norman said. “Those who invested in [commercial] real estate put up buildings. And with people working from home, a lot of businesses still have not returned to work.”

While Norman said a cave-in of the commercial sector is “not going to happen all at once,” he expects to see any fallout begin with office and retail space.

Retail actually has been one of York County’s bright spots so far this decade. Tuesday’s YCED report states: “The fastest growing industries in York County post-pandemic are transportation & warehousing, health care & social assistance, accommodation & food service, and retail trade, which account for 95% of new jobs created since 2020.”

Swenson said YCED will “watch retail and hospitality services. I think there's some room for us to really see growth in the hospitality industry because the population is growing here, but also there's a demand for hotels and restaurants that we'll see because of the growth in sports in the greater Rock Hill area.”

Swenson said the next year or so should see more upward growth trends for the county, with “a good number of expansions of existing business in our pipeline” that he feels “very positive about.”

He said that York County’s location as part of the Charlotte metro area — and so close to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport — puts the county on good footing as the state ramps up efforts to lure major corporate headquarters to South Carolina.

“We’ve seen the Department of Commerce outline that they're going to go after more headquarters and office type jobs,” Swenson said. “And we think, why not York County?”

He said public/private partnerships and careful attention to growth versus development — the latter be the more intentional and controllable — will likely make the difference between a dodgy commercial future and one York County can weather well.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.