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The Lowcountry (official spelling, sometimes spelled Low Country or just lowcountry) is a geographic and cultural region located along South Carolina's coast. The region includes the South Carolina Sea Islands. Once a location that was known for its agricultural wealth, the Lowcountry today is internationally renowned for its historic cities and communities, its natural beauty, and its unique cultural heritage, which have attracted millions of visitors and thousands of new residents.
The Lowcountry is often thought of as a geographic and social identifier. While there is a general consensus on defining Lowcountry as it relates to culture, there is a considerable difference of opinion on its geographic extent. According to some historians, the Lowcountry extends from the Sandhills of South Carolina, just east of Columbia, to the coast. This area is mostly near or at sea level; thus, the term "low country". Contemporary definitions however differentiate depending on perspective including the following:
The most commonly accepted counties of the Lowcountry are Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties. Supporters of this definition point to the Lowcountry Council of Governments (a regional governmental entity charged with regional and transportation planning) as covering these four counties. In addition, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism identifies the "Lowcountry and Resort Islands" tourism area as the four aforementioned counties.
A larger geographic definition for Lowcountry often includes Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties, sometimes referred to as the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville metropolitan area. Critics of this larger definition point that the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville metropolitan area, frequently used by those living in the City of Charleston, borrowed the Lowcountry moniker in an attempt to give a name to their region of the state; however, supporters point that many of the same geographic qualities and features found in the smaller area are also found throughout the three metropolitan counties as well.
Applied more broadly, the term can also refer to peripheral or adjacent areas. These include Allendale, Georgetown, and Williamsburg counties. Although along the coast, Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach and Conway is very rarely included in the definition and is more often considered to be its own region (The Grand Strand) or closer geographically to the Pee Dee Region of the state.
For more detail on history in the Lowcountry region, consult the following articles:
For more detail on geographic characteristics in the Lowcountry region, consult the following articles:
Originally an area dependent on plantations in the American South agriculture based on indigo, rice and cotton crops, 20th-century economic forces have created a more dynamic economy for the Lowcountry. Though agriculture remains an important component of the overall economy, other sectors have become as predominant and vital.
Tourism is the current dominant economic sector throughout much the Lowcountry and is based on resort amenities, historic and cultural sites, and natural features.
The evolution of the modern resort community was pioneered at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island in the 1950s. Since that time, other parts of Hilton Head Island, in addition to Fripp Island, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, and the Wild Dunes portion of the Isle of Palms, have developed into popular destinations for golf, tennis, and beach vacations. Longstanding seaside communities including Edisto Beach, Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island, and the Isle of Palms remain popular destinations for visitors and a growing number of permanent residents and second-home owners.
Charleston is one of the leading cultural and historic destinations in the United States and attracts millions of visitors each year. Beaufort is also very popular for cultural activities and sightseeing, while some of the smaller communities in the region have certain cultural activities or amenities that attract thousands of visitors per year. Highway or traveler commercial services are of particular importance to communities in the Lowcountry (including Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, South Carolina, Goose Creek, Charleston and Summerville) and along Interstate 95 (including St. George, Walterboro, and Hardeeville).
Hunting Island State Park, Edisto State Park and other local, state, and federally protected or preserved lands and wetlands provide thousands of acres of pristine natural areas that are accessible in areas to millions of visitors.
The Port of Charleston, owned and operated by the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) is one of the ten busiest ports in the United States, handling over $60 billion worth of goods. Much of the Lowcountry's economic output revolves around manufacturing, transportation, logistics and other port-related business. Major logistics employers include Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, Evergreen Marine Corporation, COSCO and Hamburg Süd. The SCSPA is constructing a new terminal in North Charleston, South Carolina at the old Naval Base and has plans to construct a new ocean terminal port in southern Jasper County by 2020, in conjunction with the Georgia Ports Authority under a bi-state commission. A former port facility in Port Royal was closed in 2005.
Manufacturing has become an increasingly important component of the Lowcountry's economy. Major manufacturers in the City of North Charleston, South Carolina include Robert Bosch GmbH (diesel engine components), Cummins (diesel engine components), Hess (fuel refining), Kapstone (paper), and Boeing (aircraft components, formerly Vought Industries). In 2009, Boeing has created a second assembly facility for its 787 Dreamliner aircraft in North Charleston, South Carolina. It is anticipated by state and local officials that the region will become more attractive for support industries and suppliers in the aviation and aeronautical sector of the economy.
The knowledge-based and information technology sector is a growing economic sector in the region. Blackbaud is a major software company headquartered in Charleston and employs hundreds of workers at its Daniel Island facility. Additional IT companies have sprung up in Charleston and Beaufort Counties.
Retail trade is a major component of trade in the region, with the City of North Charleston having the largest volume of retail sales in the region. Specialty retail, including arts and crafts, souvenirs,and antiques provide a major component of retail trade in the historic areas of Charleston, Summerville, Beaufort, Port Royal and Walterboro. The Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. has its local headquarters in Charleston with major warehousing and distribution center located just past Summerville off I-26.
Major shopping complexes in the area include the Citadel Mallin Charleston, the Northwoods Mall', Tanger Factory Outlets and Centre Point in North Charleston and Tanger Factory Outlets in Bluffton, the Mount Pleasant Town Centrein Mount Pleasant, and The Mall at Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island.
Major shopping districts in the area include the City Market and King Street in Charleston, Savannah Highway in West Ashley (Charleston suburb), Daniel Island (Charleston suburb), North Charleston, Johnny Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, Boundary Street and Bay Street in Beaufort, and U.S. 278 in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.
St. George, Walterboro, Point South, Ridgeland, and Hardeeville provide traveler-oriented commercial services for motorists and visitors along the Interstate 95 corridor.
The Lowcountry has a significant military presence, with tens of thousands of active duty and reserve personnel stationed in and near bases around the region. The Air Force, Navy, and the Marine Corps all have facilities located in the region. The South Carolina National Guard has several outposts located here as well.
Facilities in the Lwcountry include the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Goose Creek/Hanahan, the Charleston Air Force Base in North Charleston, and the Naval Weapons Station Charleston in Goose Creek, which includes a Naval Consolidated Brig in Hanahan. A former naval yard was closed in 1995.
The region contains its share of culture and history that draws from Southern, European, African, Caribbean, and Native American roots. Among the more notable are the Gullah influence on St. Helena Island, the early European settlements near Beaufort and Port Royal, and the Caribbean influence on architecture in Charleston. Charleston and Beaufort both have dozens of antebellum and postbellum homes that reflect unique blends and styles of architecture.