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The National Economic Crisis – a tipping point for Charleston’s future
Lee Walton

Just as the Great Depression was a national crisis that changed the social, financial, and political fabric of America throughout the 20th Century, the current economic crisis is likely to result in sweeping changes that, in many ways, will become the harbinger of social, financial, and political tipping points that will change the futures of cities and towns throughout this nation for generations to come. Few, if any, regions throughout the nation are likely to escape the adverse impacts the deepening recession as it continues to spread beyond large municipalities into every city, town, and village. Undoubtedly, this recession will descend more heavily upon some regions than others and precipitate the decline and reversal of fortune for many less fortunate communities. As the current financial crisis deepens, it will profoundly alter the national economic paradigm and mark the end of the “American Dream” that endured for the last half-century.

As the United States struggles to meet the rising financial and protectionist challenges of a deepening global recession, sharp regional competitions are beginning to develop throughout the nation as cities struggle to attract the mobile intellectual talents, innovative technologies, and creative industries so vital to cities as they seek to stimulate economic diversity and innovation. Tragically, smaller cities within regionally isolated areas lacking economic diversity, creative critical mass, and the talent-clustering attractiveness of regional metropolitan areas are already being overshadowed by the early relative success of physically denser and more economically diverse regions.

As the current financial crisis deepens, it has already accentuated the underlying fundamental flaws of many coastal communities in the Southeast that, for all intent and purpose, have based their economic viability on the two-trick pony of tourism and housing development as their main economic engines. Coastal South Carolina from Hilton Head to the Grand Strand has now reached a tipping point due to escalating real-estate prices, which have made this region less creatively stimulating or attractive to new industry. Continued real estate development in the growing recession recently became unsustainable and has now ground the local economy to an earth-shattering halt. A steep reduction in tourism, as evidenced by the recent drastic decline in Charleston’s recent SEWE attendance and sales, appears the next shoe to fall and bodes ill for the coming Spoleto Festival. With an economy fueled and funded almost exclusively by real estate development and tourism, the Lowcountry has become nothing more that an inflated housing-based Ponzi scheme.

The economy throughout the Lowcountry, and particularly that of the City of Charleston, may wash out as quickly as the tides in the Harbor, leaving empty sprawl, an overstretched and overbuilt tourist industry, dozens of floundering and unfinished housing developments, half-empty restaurants, and shuttered national chain stores on King Street as stark testament to over three decades of narrow-minded, ill-prepared leadership.

No matter the outcome, our lives and the economic viability of the Lowcountry will be severely tested in the months and years to come.

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