'Slap in the face' for Colleton Co. Locals strongly dispute offending tweet

“How long did she spend in Walterboro? Where did she go in Walterboro? If she found Urban Swaggz, how did she miss Belk?” said James and Kelly Sweatman after finishing lunch Tuesday on East Washington Street in Walterboro. For more photos, go to postandcourier.com/galleries.

WALTERBORO — Libby Thurston remembers the story of the insult that went out in cyberspace.

“Worst cty visit ever & they wonder why they get no good biz/jobs,” the Twitter feed had said.

“Yelled @ 4 being 10 minutes early & ‘URBAN SWAGGZ’ is the only clothier in town.”

What struck the hardest, Thurston said, is that the state Department of Commerce employee who tweeted had been sent to Colleton County to help.

“It’s just another slap in the face,” she said Tuesday inside her barbershop on Walterboro’s main drag.

“They try so hard to build the image back up,” she added, “and it gets beaten back down again.”

Colleton County and state officials say they are moving past the February slur that the former Commerce Department employee blasted out after an economic support visit.

Even though it was erased, it drew the ire of Colleton County faithful.

“It’s just not true,” Walterboro Mayor Bill Young said.

“I think it’s totally inappropriate and totally unprofessional,” added Elizabeth Boineau, the hired spokeswoman for Walterboro.

State officials, meanwhile, have moved quickly to contain the heat.

Amy Love, spokeswoman with the Commerce Department, said the individual responsible for the message “is no longer associated with the agency.” The worker was identified in some reports, but The Post and Courier could not reach her for comment Tuesday.

Love went on to say that Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt met with the economic development and county leadership in Colleton County, “reinforcing that South Carolina Commerce is committed to supporting economic development in Colleton and all of South Carolina’s counties and regions.”

Rural Colleton County is not the most prosperous corner of the state. Recent unemployment numbers put the rate at about 12 percent for a county of about 39,000 people.

Some say fast food is the biggest industry, and tourists mostly come via Interstate 95 or U.S. Highway 17 to visit antique stores in the quiet downtown area.

Local leaders say the region has more that the Commerce worker chose not to see.

Colleton County Economic Development Director Heyward Horton pointed to hundreds of acres “shovel ready” in an industrial park, good infrastructure, access to an airport and tens of millions of dollars in school improvements.

“Hopefully these will bear fruit before too long,” he said.

Published reports said the tweet came at the end of a Feb. 23 visit with Horton and another local official.

The woman had been named the Commerce Department’s agribusiness project manager in the Global Business Development office in January.

When the meeting ended, she is reported to have issued her scathing tweet, eventually confirming her location as Colleton County.

While the offending note was later removed, it had already been seen and saved by others.

Her career at Commerce ended a few days later, officials said. She had been with the agency since August 2010, according to reports.

At Urban Swaggz, owner Sean Altunbas said he likes doing business in Colleton County, selling urban-style clothes with Timberland and Coogi labels.

He doesn’t know why he was singled out, but thinks the Commerce visitor had stopped by. For the rest of the county, he said he likes the people but admits the economy remains tough.

“Here is a poor town,” he said, saying he remembers more than 100 people asking for a job in his store, including a 78-year-old woman who came in with a cane.

Altunbas, 52, a native of Turkey, said he likes to haggle over price with his customers, like in an old-world bazaar.

“I give them the best deal that I can,” he said, adding that he drives to Walterboro every day from his home in West Ashley.

And, contrary to the woman’s tweet, Urban Swaggz is not the only clothing store in town. A Belk department store is about one-tenth of a mile away, next to a Sears outlet.

In addition to Altunbas, others took up the county’s defense of the attack tweet on Tuesday.

“I don’t mind it being quiet, I like it that way,” said David Gutierrez, manager of a local auto sales shop.

Local college student Ronald Kelly, 30, added that the tweet was wrong and unfair.

Pegging Colleton as the woman’s worse visit ever?

“It can’t be that bad,” he said.