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TLC's Town Haul pays a visit to Laurens, S.C.

Tucked quietly away in the central piedmont of South Carolina, the old town charm and inviting ambiance of the tiny town of Laurens had been overlooked and overshadowed for years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Laurens was originally settled by the Cherokee Indians, and became known in the 19th century for its trade of tailor-made clothing.

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The downtown of Laurens experienced a complete renaissance earlier this year when it was the subject of TLC's community improvement series "Town Haul."

In this television program, popular interior designer Genevieve Gorder oversees the teamwork of designers, carpenters, craftsmen and townspeople as they remodel and revitalize small towns over the course of several weeks. The six-part series highlights the ability of local businesses and neighbors to cooperate in a united endeavor to reinvigorate their community.

The TLC show spotlighting Laurens premiered March 5, and each segment of the series showed how community groups and local businesses came together to work on six major renovation projects: a playground, amphitheater, teen center, a farmer's market, an old family operated barbershop, and an abandoned building located in the middle of town.

Laurens, the county seat, was selected as an ideal location for the second installment of Town Haul filming largely due to the promotional efforts of the nonprofit organization Main Street Laurens, a division of a national network that strives to preserve, enhance and promote the historic downtown areas of small American towns. The organization's membership consists of individuals and local businesses, like NTCA member Piedmont Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), that voluntarily work to revitalize the community and promote business development.

During the initial consultation with TLC's location scouts, Jenny Boulware, the executive director of Main Street Laurens, was consulted for her expertise on potential downtown projects and introduced the TLC team to a number of merchants and property owners. Almost immediately, she said, a plethora of community leaders quickly collaborated to make the TLC project a reality. In less than a week, several businesses had set up state-of-the-art headquarters for the production company in the historic Laurens County Courthouse.

"Without the support of these groups throughout the entire three-and-a-half month process, this project would not have been the success that it was," said Boulware. "We really learned a great deal about the dedication of this community. The population of Laurens is only about 9,960, and more than 500 people volunteered in some capacity."

PRTC's CEO and General Manager Jim Wilder helped set up the digital subscriber line (DSL) connection at the old courthouse, and many employees at the telco volunteered a wide variety of assistance throughout the production process.

"The townspeople were very aware of the cameras, and many of them were very happy to become celebrities," Wilder said. "At our telco, we wanted to stay away from the spotlight, but we were still very happy to contribute to the renovations from behind the scenes."

PRTC provided cherry picker trucks throughout the construction of Little River Park, so that TLC easily could take aerial footage. The park, which had flooded in the mid-1980s, was unusable by the community. Poor lighting made it dangerous at night-time. When Town Haul came, they not only corrected the lighting problem, but also built a playground with a miniature golf course and lots of grassy space for socialization.

"This park truly is an asset to the community because children never had anywhere to play prior to its construction," said Sharon O'Bryant, public relations/human resources director at PRTC. "It's truly amazing that, even though Town Haul's [45-member] crew was very helpful, 95% of the labor for this project was done by neighbors in the Laurens community."

Volunteers were able to see the fruits of their labor March 5, when they gathered in the old courthouse. PRTC hooked up a video DSL connection to a projector screen television for the program's premiere. Other local companies and restaurants provided refreshments.

"In the end, we are extremely happy that Town Haul came, improved our community and got people to recognize the importance of the future of this town," Wilder said. "We're proud of the showing our community made on this program."

"The community certainly has felt the effects of the show", O'Bryant added. "Six months later, there is renewed interest in the town of Laurens, increased foot traffic in the downtown area from as far away as Alaska and Canada. Many visitors are wandering around, wanting not only to see, but to experience the new town."

"Because of Town Haul," Wilder continued, "Laurens is no longer a little town between Greenville and Columbia. The show finally put our small town on the map."

By Megan O'Donnell, NTCA Communications Intern
COPYRIGHT 2005 National Telephone Cooperative Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:O'Donnell, Megan
Publication:The Exchange
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:781
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