OneSpartanburg Helps Provide Key Takeaways As 2021 Begins

A busy city street in downtown Spartanburg.
Billy Hathorn

OneSpartanburg, Inc., has pooled together key takeaways from local and regional experts on the future of Spartanburg.

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

Tim Quinlan, Senior Economist with Wells Fargo, looked at local, regional and national economic trends throughout the year, and tried to shed some light on what to expect in 2021.

Possibly the biggest takeaway from the economy in 2020 is that there is no way to separate it from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

Hiring and unemployment: Quinlan said hiring slowed nationwide, and first-time jobless claims remained higher than they were pre-pandemic.

GDP: The third quarter of 2021 as a “reopening quarter” as Quinlan called it, and led to a spike in GDP. But that should not be expected to be replicated. We should, however, inch closer to pre-pandemic conditions economically, especially toward the middle of 2021.

Sectors to see improvement in 2021: Manufacturing, an important part of Spartanburg’s economy, held up well in 2020, despite March and April being the two worst months of industrial productivity ever nationally.

Sectors that saw retractions included health care, housing and utilities, and the food and beverage industry, but Quinlan said those industries should see better years ahead.

E-commerce: While restaurant and other experience-based spending was down, the capabilities of e-commerce were “pushed four or five years into the future” during the course of 2020, Quinlan said. “We certainly expect that to continue chugging along.”

FUTURE OF SPARTANBURG’S ECONOMY

Chief Economic Development Officer Katherine O’Neill talked with industry leaders including: John Montgomery, Vice President of Colliers International, Caleb Beasley, Corporate Director of Revenue Management with OTO Development, Sue Schneider, CEO of Spartanburg Water, and David Britt, Spartanburg County Councilman and Vice President of Tindall Corp.

Business space: Industrial inventory is still available across the Spartanburg market as recovery efforts continue. Montgomery said the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 were expected to bring a new wave of developers coming into the area.

Hotel industry: Beasley said the industry would likely finish 2020 down by some 50% when it came to REVPAR (revenue per available room). Travelers who stayed at hotels wanted to feel safe and know the facilities were clean. Over the year, weddings and sporting events were still held, and military travel was still occurring. There remained optimism about what 2021 was going to bring, Beasley said.

Utilities: Development continued across Spartanburg, meaning utility work and projects continued as well, Schneider said. Utilities play a key role in expansions and new business locations.

Industrial climate: Britt said the county’s success attracting business over the last decade or so helped development continue in 2020 despite many other places seeing slowed investment numbers. Essentially, Spartanburg’s track record kept it strong for businesses looking to open new locations and those companies already here looking to grow. 

FUTURE OF TOURISM IN SPARTANBURG

Chief Tourism Officer Timothy Bush led this discussion of Spartanburg’s tourism industry and its assets with Dolly Chewing, Director of Tourism Sales and Marketing with the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Crystal Pace, Corporate Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management with Pinnacle Hospitality, and Andy Cajka, President of Southern Hospitality Group.

The session detailed how Spartanburg properties had adjusted to COVID-19, industry recaps and expectations for the next year and beyond.

Adjustments: Pace and Cajka both said cleanliness efforts had been stepped up at their properties – both at restaurants and hotels. Guests and diners alike wanted to know sanitary conditions were being kept.

Successes in 2020: Pinnacle’s restaurants were able to acclimate to dine-out and to-go orders for much of the year, Pace said. Cajka added that Southern Hospitality Group’s properties, including the Spartanburg Marriott, were still able to hold socially-distanced small events and meetings.

Chewing said the state’s parks and golf courses performed well this year as people sought to be outside and safely distanced, especially in the warmer months of the year. “They felt a little safer in that environment,” she said. Parks and golf courses performed strong, but statewide, like many other states in the country, tourism was down over the year.

2021 Outlook: Cajka and Pace both said the forecast for the year ahead is clearing up, but isn’t set in stone yet.

Cajka expects 2021 to be better than 2020, but a serious, sustained recovery will require wide distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

SPARTANBURG 2030

Futurist Nikolas Badminton presented this session, focused on changes to come over the next decade, and the thinking necessary to make those changes possible. “It requires a shift in mindset from ‘what is’ to ‘what if,’” he said.

Technology: Technology has led to something like the “fourth industrial revolution,” Badminton said. Businesses that do not keep up – some 50% of small businesses across the U.S. still don’t have an online presence, he said – will be left behind as increasingly shop and order from our phones and computers.

Towns and cities across the U.S. should encourage their businesses to embrace what’s possible digitally as well.

“We need to have that thriving pulse of a city in digital form,” he said.

Clean energy: As technology and what it can be used for grows in magnitude, it should be a priority to make its use lead to more equitable, cleaner and greener solutions around the world. Particularly in the automotive field – key to Spartanburg – Badminton said electric vehicles and autonomous transportation will lead innovation over the next decade as society at large seeks to combat climate change and curb fossil fuel use.

LEGISLATIVE FORECAST

Sens. Tom Corbin, Shane Martin and Scott Talley, and Reps. Rita Allison, Max Hyde and Roger Nutt, along with Jason Zacher, Executive Director of the Upstate Chamber Coalition discussed the OneSpartanburg, Inc. 2021 Legislative Agenda and their own legislative focuses for the upcoming session. The legislative agenda spans key issues that have faced South Carolina for years now.

Education and workforce: We will continue to work and support efforts to lower workforce barriers, and commit to a path that increases teacher pay to the national average.

OneSpartanburg, Inc. still remains supportive of effort to give DACA recipients the right to receive state licenses in order to obtain jobs they’re qualified for but cannot get the licenses to work.

Criminal justice reform: We also commit to supporting reasonable, fair reforms when it comes to criminal justice – like passing a hate law and reforming civil asset forfeiture laws – and assisting those who have recently left incarceration. These efforts include expanding expungement for minor crimes and assisting citizens with getting the vital records they need upon release.

Recovery from COVID-19: Several COVID-19-related items are on the legislative agenda, including supporting economic development statewide in the wake of COVID through measures like targeting industries looking to relocate away from high-tax states and increasing access to high-speed broadband internet.

The full 2021 Legislative Agenda can be found at www.onespartanburginc.com/advocate.

OUTLOOK OF COVID-19

(*Note: the numbers represented in this session reflect what the numbers were up-to-date as of Dec. 4.)

Dr. Christopher Lombardozzi with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and Ronnie Andrews, CEO of California-based Oncocyte led this discussion on the latest when it came to COVID-19 and the vaccines in development.

Testing: Across South Carolina, 2.7 million people were tested for COVID-19, and Spartanburg Regional had treated some 925 patients, Lombardozzi said. The hospital system has operated drive-thru testing sites in Greer, Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties, conducting nearly 1,200 tests per day with a turnaround time of 24-48 hours.

The hospital system is prepared for a potential rise in cases in the winter, Lombardozzi said, but the cold/flu season combined with COVID-19 could cause significant disruptions to schools and businesses.

Vaccinations: The COVID-19 vaccines – developed by Pfizer and Moderna, with one soon to be used developed by Astra Zeneca – started shipping out in mid-December to health care workers and government employees nationwide. The vaccine does produce some logistical challenges – including necessary refrigeration, but many health systems are prepared, Lombardozzi said.

Andrews said the vaccines have been proven largely safe, although research is still being done on its effects on pregnant women. Andrews also went into the science of COVID-19 testing, the types of testing and the trials done on the various vaccines.

What’s next: Even with the vaccine, social distancing, face-mask use and hygiene are still paramount in 2021 to curb the spread of COVID before the vaccine reaches a majority of Americans. 

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE OUTLOOK

This session, featuring Jason Zacher, Executive Director of the Upstate Chamber Coalition, Amanda Loveday, former SC Democratic Party Chairwoman and COO of Nexsen Pruet Strategies, and Matt Moore, former SC GOP Chairman and Managing Partner at First Tuesday, dug deep into the political fallout of the November 2020 election and the campaigns that preceded them.

Where Congress stood: While the presidential election was decided, January runoffs in Georgia left the Senate up-for-grabs, and with it, many potential legislative action items remained in-limbo at the end of 2020. Democrats’ House majority shrank, leaving that house of Congress split 222-209 heading into 2021.

What role COVID-19 played: President-Elect Joe Biden faces a public health crisis of rising COVID-19 cases, Doubleday said. Moore said the election wasn’t quite a rejection of Republican party messaging, but it did become a referendum on President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus, and that likely cost him.

Looking ahead: Doubleday believes the relationships Joe Biden has with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-SC and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is Senate Majority Leader, would lead to possibly more compromise than in years past, especially given the health crisis ongoing in the U.S.

When it comes to what Congress and the White House will focus on in 2021, it almost certainly starts with COVID-19 relief and infrastructure projects, although it is difficult to tell from there.

Prepared by OneSpartanburg, Inc.