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Confederate flag’s removal could drive tourism, sports to SC

The Confederate battle flag being removed from its pole on the S.C. State House grounds July 10, 2015
The Confederate battle flag being removed from its pole on the S.C. State House grounds July 10, 2015 tdominick@thestate.com

Since the Confederate flag’s removal from the State House grounds a year ago, boycotts of the state have been lifted, paving the way for a boost in tourism and the chance at high-profile sporting events.

The NAACP and NCAA last summer lifted their boycotts of South Carolina, put in place after the 2000 compromise that removed the flag from the State House dome to a nearby flagpole.

The state NAACP convention has returned to South Carolina after spending recent years in North Carolina and Georgia, said Dwight James, the S.C. NAACP’s executive director. Last year the convention was held in Spartanburg. This September it’s slated for Columbia.

“The word is slowly getting out that the flag has been removed from the State House grounds,” James said.

The changes also opened the door for Columbia to work on bringing an NCAA men’s basketball tournament to the state’s capital. A weekend-long tournament could bring $10 to $15 million to Columbia and the Midlands, according to Ron Morris, a former columnist for The State newspaper who has led the city’s efforts.

Three collegiate conferences since January have announced they will hold postseason sports tournaments in the Palmetto State over the next few years. Whether those decisions were related to the flag’s removal is unclear.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who called for the flag’s removal last summer, had said during a 2014 gubernatorial debate that the flag was not hurting the state’s efforts to draw industry – a conclusion for which she cited the lack of concerned chief executives calling her.

Since the flag was raised on a pole on the State House grounds, Boeing, Volvo, Amazon and other companies established or expanded their operations in South Carolina.

But as cries mounted for the flag’s removal last summer, business leaders coalesced behind the effort, saying the banner’s furling would support investment and industry in the state and would help attract a diverse and talented workforce.

Tourism also should see an uptick, some say.

The S.C. Chamber of Commerce has said that tourists have avoided the state for years because of the flag. Many would-be tourists wrote emails to Haley after the Charleston massacre saying they would not visit the Palmetto State while the flag was still flying.

Tourism numbers could get a bump from the return of many African-American family reunions, which will generate revenue for hotels, restaurants and gas stations, James said.

Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed to this story.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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