Having separated from its sister state, North Carolina, in 1729, South Carolina has a long history of firsts. In March 1776, four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the state declared itself free of English rule and appointed its own president. Two years later, in 1778, it was the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s original governing principles.
Then, in the following century, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in 1860, and the site of the first battle of the Civil War, with shots fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston in 1861. Today, competing narratives about the state’s Confederate and slave-owning history remain a source of tension. In 2015, following a racially-motivated mass shooting, the state removed the Confederate battle flag from its Statehouse grounds.
What’s indisputable, however, is that Charleston was once the biggest slave port in the nation, with more than 40% of African slaves arriving in bondage on Sullivan’s Island. Many of these slaves were purchased to work in Carolina rice fields, where conditions were so harsh and diseases (including malaria) were so prevalent that historians estimate nearly two out of every three slave children on rice plantations died before their 16th birthdays.
During slavery, blacks outnumbered white citizens in South Carolina, but today African Americans make up 27% of the state’s population (the 5th highest proportion in the country). 67% of residents are white, 5% are Hispanic and 1% are Asian. The state’s total population is over 4.7 million and growing rapidly, with the tenth-fastest population growth rate in the nation at nearly 4.5%.
One reason for this growth spurt is that, thanks to its warm climate, beautiful beaches and numerous golf courses, South Carolina has become a retirement mecca, attracting retirees and second-home owners with its relative affordability. Indeed, the median home value for Myrtle Beach, a popular beach town, was $171,795 in 2015, while in historic Charleston, it was $298,814. Compared to roughly a million dollars or more in many of Florida's most popular coastal markets, such as Naples or Palm Beach, South Carolina remains a good deal.
Statewide, the median home value was $144,615 – nearly $40,000 below the national average - while the median household income was $42,367, placing it in the bottom 10 states for household wealth.
Boasting approximately 90 golf courses, Myrtle Beach is the epicenter of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of beaches separated from the South Carolina mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. More than 16 million vacationers visit the Myrtle Beach area each year, fueling its massive $8 billion tourism industry. Other favorite destinations along the coast are the upscale golf and tennis resorts of Hilton Head Island and Kiawah Island, which both rank in the 10 most expensive places for real estate in the state.
Not surprisingly, tourism is the leading sector of South Carolina's economy, employing approximately 10% of the workforce. And not just at the beaches. Once a major colonial city – the 4th largest behind Philadelphia, New York and Boston until 1800 – Charleston is an incredibly well-preserved architectural treasure, christened “the Best Mannered City in the U.S.” In 2015, this charming city with a metro area population of more than 700,000 was named the “Top U.S. City” to visit for the fifth consecutive year by Conde Nast Traveler.
Manufacturing also contributes significantly to South Carolina's economy, as the state is home to more than 100 aerospace and aviation companies (including Boeing, who produces it Dreamliner here) as well as over 250 automotive companies (including BMW’s North American facilities and suppliers). Other top industries include biotechnology and life sciences, transportation (thanks to Charleston being the nation’s seventh largest container port) and recycling.
The federal government also plays a role in the state’s technology sector, as South Carolina is home to the Savannah River Site and National Laboratory, established near Aiken by the Department of Energy in the 1950s to produce plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons. Now a research center and nuclear waste handling facility, the 300-square-mile Savannah River Site employs more than 12,000 people, including chemists, engineers, environmental scientists and radioactive materials handlers.