Going Home: Historic City of Georgetown, S.C., Changes With the Times

Photo: Going Home: Georgetown Changes with the Times: ABCs Sharyn Alfonsi Hears How Her South Carolina Hometown Is Adapting.
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When we were tasked with "Going Home" for this series, I had to pause. Where is home? Is it the place you were born? The place you learned to ride a bike? The place you went to school? For many of us who moved around, there is no one answer. So, after some serious soul-searching, I settled on Georgetown, S.C.

Click here to read more from the "Going Home" series

My parents live in Georgetown. It is the place I go for the holidays. It's where I hide when I am stressed and can't take New York for another minute. It's where my son, Wyatt, put his sweet little feet in the sand for the first time. It's the place I very much hope to live one day. (I just need to convince my bosses that "Sharyn Alfonsi, ABC News, Georgetown, South Carolina" sounds good.)

I am never happier than when I am in mother's kitchen, and she insists on cooking me shrimp and grits, even though I am full.

I love that my father tells any tourist who asks that his dog, Fletcher, is a "Carolina Curly Coated Retriever." Fletcher is, in fact, a standard poodle, but Dad is not really a "poodle guy."

I love to sit on our front porch and read the Georgetown Times newspaper, holding a cup of coffee. It is an outstanding paper. I love that it covers the economy and the high school homecoming with equal zest. Today's edition included a story about some men "shocking catfish" out of the water with a wire. You can't make this stuff up.

Town With a Long History

But Georgetown is a place where the waters are rich with catfish and shrimp, the streets are lined with mossy oaks, and if you know just where to look, you can find some honest-to-goodness steel magnolias.

Our family home dates from before the Revolutionary War, and since that time, the view of the town from our windows has changed over and over again.

Pat Doyle, our neighbor and resident historian, says that Georgetown once thrived with "Carolina gold." That's rice, to the uninitiated.

Changing Industries in Georgetown, S.C.

"Georgetown County produced more rice than anybody in the whole world," Doyle told me.

But after the Civil War, the rice industry collapsed. The lumber company moved in, but it went bankrupt during the Depression. In moved the paper mill and, later, the steel mill.

This year, though, the steel mill shuttered, and the paper mill cut its shifts. Jobs have moved to China, and unemployment in the city now stands at almost 11 percent. Georgetown is looking to reinvent itself again.

One hope for the city, believe it or not, is algae. Algae is a key ingredient for cosmetics, and it can even be turned into biofuel. At one Georgetown company I visited, Renewed World Energies, they grow algae in specially constructed machines, which they also build.

Growing Green Jobs ... From Algae

Tim Tompkins runs Renewable World Energies. He has six employees, but he hopes to hire 50 more soon. Georgetown's warm climate, it turns out, is perfect for algae, but that's not the reason he chose to build his company here.

"I have relationships with people here," Tompkins said. "This is home. These are the people I see every day. You know, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to make life better where they are."

So Tompkins has committed to keeping the jobs here in Georgetown, whatever the cost. New manufacturing jobs, now growing in the shadows of those idle mills.

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