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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 30, 2013

Nikki Haley says South Carolina has had fastest growth in the Southeast

During an event to launch her bid for a second term, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley touted her state’s economic renaissance. Haley is facing a tough re-election fight despite being a Republican in a solidly Republican state, so convincing voters that the state’s economy is improving a key part of her re-election argument.

"We have the fastest-growing economy in the Southeast and we’re not slowing down," Haley said at the Aug. 26, 2013, event, according to the Washington Post. "If you think what we did in the first two and a half years was great, wait until you see what we do next."

We wondered whether Haley is correct that South Carolina has "the fastest-growing economy in the Southeast."

Looking at the region’s economic growth

The hard part about checking Haley’s claim isn’t determining how fast her state and others grew -- it’s determining what counts as "the Southeast."

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the part of the U.S. Commerce Department that tabulates state-level economic statistics, counts 12 states in its southeastern region. They are listed in the following chart, along with the inflation-adjusted growth in state gross domestic product between 2010, the last full year before Haley took office, and 2012, the last full year during her tenure so far. We chose this statistic because several economists said it was the best one to use in evaluating her claim.



Inflation-adjusted state GDP, percentage increase, 2012 over 2010


+ 2.2 percent


+ 2.0 percent


+ 3.4 percent


+ 4.2 percent


+ 3.4 percent


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- 1.2 percent


+ 1.2 percent

North Carolina

+ 3.2 percent

South Carolina

+ 5.0 percent


+ 5.8 percent


+ 2.2 percent

West Virginia

+ 5.2 percent


So by this measure, South Carolina is close to the top, but not No. 1 -- it trails both Tennessee and West Virginia.

But determining what counts as a southeastern state is more art than science. Historically and culturally, Tennessee and West Virginia could just as easily be categorized as Appalachian. In fact, other federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, do not count West Virginia as a southeastern state, and the Library of Congress’ guide to American regions doesn’t include a "southeastern" region at all.

Given the fuzziness of the concept of "southeastern," we are prepared to give Haley some leeway in determining a definition. Under one definition we find plausible -- former Confederate states that also have a coastline, which would exclude Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia -- Haley’s claim would be correct.

One additional issue: When we check a claim in which the speaker either takes credit or casts blame on an elected official, we try to factor in whether that personal credit or blame is deserved. In this case, Haley wasn’t explicitly saying that she was responsible for South Carolina’s region-topping ranking, but it did come during an event in which she sought a second term, based in part on the state’s economic health.

Bill Seyfried, a professor of economics at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., said that some of South Carolina’s growth was due to the national manufacturing rebound in 2011 and 2012. "Being a manufacturing-oriented state when manufacturing is growing helped," Seyfried said.

Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness said that, in general, "politicians receive more blame and credit for the economy than is often justifiable, and policy tools at the state level are of a much smaller caliber than those wielded at the national level."

That said, Snaith said he thought Haley’s statement was reasonably solid. Compared to other economic claims by politicians, he said, Haley’s is "one of the more straightforward."

Our ruling

Haley said South Carolina has "the fastest-growing economy in the Southeast." Since she took office, South Carolina had the third-highest growth rate among the 12 states that constitute the broadest definition of "southeastern." But in a geographically tighter group of eight states, South Carolina does rank first. On balance, we rate her statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Washington Post, "South Carolina Gov. Haley launches reelection campaign," Aug. 26, 2013

Bureau of Economic Analysis, state GDP search index page, accessed Aug. 28, 2013

Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University, Aug. 28, 2013

Email interview with Bill Seyfried, professor of economics at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Aug. 28, 2013

Email interview with Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness. Aug. 28, 2013

Email interview with Joseph DeSalvo, economist at the University of South Florida, Aug. 28, 2013

Email interview with Rob Godfrey, spokesman for Nikki Haley for governor campaign, Aug. 29, 2013

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