As South Carolina experiences rapid population and economic growth, some metropolitan areas are faring better than others.

An annual report released by the Milken Institute compared 403 U.S. metro areas, including 10 in South Carolina, using trends in employment, wages, economic opportunities and growth of high-tech sectors.

Standouts like Charleston made the top 15. Others populated the middle of the pack, while some smaller cities performed poorly. Even in the highest-rated South Carolina cities, there are growing pains, including housing shortages and social inequity.

The 2024 report also included two new metrics to judge metro areas: one for climate resilience that measures the ability to recover from natural disasters and another to measure income inequality.

‘A gold rush of people’

Scott Slatton, director of advocacy and communications for the South Carolina Municipal Association, said that the rankings track with what the association and economists have observed.

The challenge for cities across the state is managing the rapid growth brought by economic development.

“All the cities and towns are working very diligently to figure out how to best manage the rush, you know, almost like a gold rush of people to South Carolina,” Slatton said.

For cities like Charleston, that includes dealing with rising housing demand and costs. The Midlands and other regions in the middle will continue to find their footing and attract more people and jobs to the region.

And for smaller, more rural areas of the state, much of the challenge is ensuring they have access to broadband, Slatton said.

“The rural areas are smaller cities and towns, and rural parts of the state are not necessarily benefiting as greatly from these opportunities,” he said, adding that access to high-speed internet and the option to work from home could attract those looking to live outside the major population hubs.

The good

The Charleston-North Charleston metro area was the 11th-best performing city in the latest rankings among 200 large cities. This was the first time the metro area cracked the top 15 in a decade. It came in 24th in 2023.

From August 2022 to 2023, the Charleston metro area experienced the fastest employment growth in the country relative to other metros, continuing a streak of consistent employment gains. The job gains were coupled with high wage growth.

Charleston also experienced rapid high-tech growth, placing fifth among large cities on this metric.

“The accelerated growth in high-tech output indicates that Charleston, South Carolina’s most populous city, is becoming capable of competing with neighboring regional tech hubs such as Charlotte and Atlanta,” the report found.

However, like neighboring Charlotte and many other Southeastern metros, Charleston struggles with high levels of income inequality. The city had the third-worst ranking on this metric among highperforming cities.

The Holy City also performed poorly on the percentage of cost-burdened households — in 2022, roughly half of renters were paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

“Charleston’s high level of income inequality indicates the need for increased access to economic opportunities for less privileged communities in the metro,” the report said, adding that “addressing Charleston’s housing crisis and inequality will continue to be a major priority.”

The Myrtle Beach-Conway- North Myrtle Beach metro area placed 19th on the large cities list, slipping seven spots from last year. It received high rankings in job, wage and high-tech growth, but a poor score in climate resilience.

The Greenville-Anderson- Mauldin metro area placed 38th on the large cities list, continuing its steady climb in rankings over the past couple of years. It received high marks in affordable housing and high-tech GDP.

Hilton Head, which was classified as a small city and ranked on a separate list, placed 43rd out of 203. It ranked highly in wage and job growth, high-tech GDP and broadband access.

The Charlotte metro area, which includes Rock Hill, placed 10th on the large cities list. Despite its high rating, the report noted that this area has the highest rates of income inequality among top-tier cities, with wide racial and economic disparities.

The meh

The Columbia metro area, which includes Calhoun, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Richland and Saluda counties, placed 109th on the large cities list. It has consistently been among the middle of the pack of large cities, but it did receive high marks on high-tech jobs and housing affordability.

Although the Midlands is growing and has earned huge economic wins in recent years, the region has lagged behind similarly sized metro areas in the Southeast, including Charleston and Greenville, based on economic and quality of life indicators. Officials and business leaders have repeatedly talked about the need to promote the region’s riverfront to promote growth and brand the region better. But, the slower growth compared to other S.C. metros has kept housing more affordable than tighter markets on the coast or Upstate.

Spartanburg placed 124th and received poor marks in short-term job growth and broadband access.

Florence, classified as a small city, came in 90th, earning good rankings on job growth and high-tech GDP. But the city received poor scores on broadband access, climate resilience and equitable growth.

The ugly

The Augusta metro area, which includes Aiken and Edgefield counties, ranked 169th out of the 200 large cities. It was among the worst metros for long-term job growth and high-tech GDP. But it did come in at 36th for affordable housing.

Sumter, which was classified as a small city, came in 139th among small cities, receiving poor scores in job growth and high-tech GDP.

“Charleston’s high level of income inequality indicates the need for increased access to economic opportunities for less privileged communities in the metro.”

Milken Institute report