Destination 2016: Charleston

On a stroll through Charleston’s historic district, it can seem like little has changed in this South Carolina port city since the 17th Century.

Graceful old mansions still watch over the harbor, Spanish moss still drips from live oaks and horses still pull carts down cobblestone streets. Many Charlestonians, ever the guardians of Southern manners, still dress for dinner and church.
Quality of Life
With great food, beautiful architecture and seaside pursuits, Charleston has much to offer visitors and tourists alike.
Business Climate
A technically proficient workforce and major port make Charleston a manufacturing magnet.
Civic Leadership
The city has worked hard to court businesses and tourists without losing its unique charm.
Look beyond the Old South trappings, though, and much has changed. The antebellum industries that built the city—cotton, indigo and rice cultivation, and the lamentable infrastructure of slavery that made it all possible—are long gone. And after several decades of a struggling economy, Charleston is now experiencing a manufacturing boom that many American cities can only dream of, led by the kind of heavy industry that has largely departed from the country’s heartland.
To really understand Charleston, you have to go back to the end of the Civil War, still referred to euphemistically by some here as “the recent unpleasantness.” The economy was in chaos: Without slavery, the plantation system collapsed. Sharecropping, which was better than slavery but still a hard and impoverishing way of life, quickly took its place. Charleston itself had been burned and bombarded and was largely in ruins. Many former slaves and white farmers migrated north, leaving the plantation class, and their splendid mansions, to corrode in the salty air. And so it went for more than 100 years with just a few unremarkable economic peaks and valleys—mostly valleys—along the way. Fertile farmland lay fallow even as jobs were hard to come by. While Charleston has not been at the center of South Carolina’s more overt fights over race in recent years, it—like many progressive Southern cities—continues to struggle with systemic issues such as segregation and poverty.

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