Candidates drive economic gains

About 2,500 people are expected to attend tonight's invitation-only GOP debate at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Leroy Burnell

It is estimated that it will cost South Carolina $1.5 million to hold Saturday’s Republican presidential primary, but some businesses are also seeing economic benefits as candidates criss-cross the state, with their entourages and media in tow.

Palmetto State residents, besieged by robo-calls in recent days, might guess that the big beneficiaries have been companies that produce and deliver recorded phone messages.

Money certainly has been spent on those calls, but local television ads are the big-ticket item, with candidates and political action committees spending more than $11 million.

The hospitality industry is also counting some gains, filling hotel rooms and restaurant tables during what is typically a slow month.

“If people come during the slow season, like in January, that’s worth more than if they come at a busier time,” said Bing Pan, head of research at the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis. “The question is, how many people are attending the events, and how many are coming just for the events?”

The numbers haven’t been estimated and certainly aren’t on the scale of a Spoleto Festival or PGA Championship — maybe something closer to a trade association convention — but Pan said every extra visitor counts.

Each out-of-town visitor spends, on average, $183 a day, which is worth closer to $300 as it ripples through local economies, Pan said.

About 2,500 people are expected to attend the invitation-only Southern Republican Leadership Conference/CNN Presidential Town Hall debate tonight at the North Charleston Coliseum.

While ordinary tourists won’t be attending the debate, local hoteliers reported slight bumps in business, providing a welcome lift.

Marriott managers, for instance, saw increased bookings for properties in downtown Charleston and near the debate site, said Cheryl Craven, a company vice president who also serves as president of the Charleston Area Hospitality Association.

“I do know definitely it’s having a positive impact, which is fabulous for January,” Craven said.

The free international media exposure the debate is generating for the area should deliver the biggest economic jolt, said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hill was elated Wednesday with “the great press we’re getting.”

A producer for CNN, for instance, was seeking an inspiring local business owner to profile Wednesday, and Hill said MSNBC will broadcast its “Morning Joe” talk show today and Friday from a downtown Charleston hotel.

Also, broadcast media outlets are shooting picturesque “B-roll” background footage while they are in the area,

“They get the beaches, the golf courses, Shem Creek. They get the beauty shots,” Hill said.

“We’ll be able to get the earned media value when it’s over,” she said, referring to free publicity.