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Before State Primary, Get A Taste of South Carolina

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

With all the attention focused on election coverage in South Carolina, the armies of live trucks, the swarms of reporters - and we will be among them - we thought we should take a moment to shift the conversation slightly away from politics and politicians to highlight the Palmetto State.

Joining us to talk about the state's tourism industry is Chad Prosser. He's director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Welcome.

Mr. CHAD PROSSER (Director, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism): Thank you, Michel. It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: Well, in your estimation, what makes South Carolina so inviting? I understand you're a native?

Mr. PROSSER: I am a native. I'm from a small town, Florence, South Carolina, in the middle part of the state. But the state is one where you can go from the mountains to the coast in one day. And certainly the area where the debates are being held, Myrtle Beach, is our top tourism destination in the state. So we have a lot of visitors coming in last couple of weeks in preparation for the debates and the debate has already happened.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about that. Are people excited about the primaries being there and being as early as they are this year? Are they going, oh, no?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PROSSER: I think most South Carolinians are excited. It's great to have the emphasis on South Carolina to have the attention from the candidates. That's something that really the last decade or so, South Carolina has moved into the - this early part of the presidential decision-making process, and it's been nice because it really allows people to exposure to South Carolina, who might not otherwise come here.

MARTIN: Is there an economic impact, though, to having the debate held there, to having this kind of a media scrutiny? Are you anticipating an impact on the state's bottom line?

Mr. PROSSER: Oh, absolutely. The actual impact from the debates themselves - it ranges somewhere between $15 and $20 million for the actual event. The other part of it, which is very beneficial for us is just the publicity.

MARTIN: Tell me something about South Carolina I don't know.

Mr. PROSSER: How about Greenville, South Carolina? It's an emerging city in terms of the city as a visitor destination. The downtown is an incredible area to visit. They've built a new pedestrian bridge over the Reedy River; a lot of new restaurants, new shopping. It's a great access point to access the mountain parks we have. We have 47 state parks, many of which are in the upstate of South Carolina and can be accessed from Greenville. What you might not know is that area is where BMW, in such a way, the only BMW manufacturing facility in the United States is in South Carolina in the city of Spartanburg area.

MARTIN: Are they offering samples?

Mr. PROSSER: They do have test drives. They have a BMW school, you can come here and learn how to drive the BMW that you just bought.

MARTIN: Oh, how - who told you about that?

Mr. PROSSER: Oh.

MARTIN: Never mind.

Mr. PROSSER: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. I understand that South Carolina also has more than 300 public and private golf courses?

Mr. PROSSER: We do. In fact, we have more golf courses per capita than any other state, so…

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Let's keep that from my husband, shall we?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And I understand that the poinsettia flower so permanently associated with Christmas is named in honor of Joel Poinsett who's a South Carolinian?

Mr. PROSSER: He was a South Carolinian. He was the United States Ambassador to Mexico. And he discovered that variation and it is named in his honor. So every Christmas, when you see the poinsettias, you need to think of South Carolina. And think how warm it is down here when it's snowing in Washington.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, you're being mean.

Mr. PROSSER: Aha.

MARTIN: And of course, South Carolina is associated with the Confederacy, the town of Abbeville it's known as the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy. But what if you're interested in exploring other aspects of the Civil War experience, for example, from the standpoint of the enslaved Americans? What would you recommend?

Mr. PROSSER: You know, I would start at the beginning, Michel, and that is really at Charles Towne Landing, which is in Charleston, and it is where, in 1670, the English settlers accompanied by the West Africans who had come to Barbados came over to South Carolina and establish the first permanent settlement in the Carolinas. And so that's where the story really begins, and it blossoms from that point.

Certainly, this tremendous interest in the Gullah/Geeche culture - and there's a lot happening now to preserve that culture - it's something - when you see the basket weavers in downtown Charleston making sweet grass baskets, that's a product of the Gullah/Geeche culture and of the West African influence that came to South Carolina via the Caribbean. So that's a place where you can start and then really progress down the coast. There are a number of significant sights along that route, which really tell the story of the enslaved Africans that came to South Carolina. And as the slaves were freed, many of the sites where they then subsequently lived and developed and flourished are along the coast in that area.

MARTIN: Well, I'll try to find some unsuspecting victims to impress with that knowledge. So thank you.

Mr. PROSSER: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Chad Prosser is the director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. He joined us from the studios of ETV Radio in Columbia, South Carolina.

Thanks so much.

Mr. PROSSER: Thank you. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.