For most of Tuesday, Richburg and Chester County were part of the national conversation. It started on NBC's "Today Show," followed by coverage from the Weather Channel and then Fox News. There were cameras from regional television stations and writers from everywhere.
Everyone came for the weather, or more accurately, the making of weather. The Institute for Business & Home Safety cranked up its wind tunnel to almost 100 mph, blowing a house into fragments of wood, shingles and vinyl siding.
The wind equaled the strength of a category 2 hurricane.
Cameramen sometimes capture the destructive force of a hurricane on film. Driving rains usually blur the images. The pictures are often jerky as wind whips the camera. But Tuesday's event was held inside, under stadium lights. It was carefully videotaped with multiple cameras and monitored so researchers can determine where and how things fail.
It is the only full-scale testing facility in the world. When fully operational it will be testing not only winds, but fire and water events.
The institute even plans to store houses outside, letting them age in South Carolina heat, humidity and wintry ice. These houses will be tested and studied to understand the longer-term effects of weather.
Research tests won't start until next year. Yet, the facility is already becoming an economic catalyst for the region.
Karlisa Parker, director of the Chester County Economic Development Office, spent much of Wednesday answering calls and e-mails from people suddenly interested in Chester County. Parker knew something good would come from the Institute for Business & Home Safety's facility.
She had already begun plans to market the 300 acres the county owns around the institute's 90 acres. The county had already changed the name of the business park to the Chester County Research and Development Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday she got the confirmation things can be great. "This will put us on the map in a different way," she said.
The hundreds that watched Tuesday's demonstration came from all over.
Jimmy Hill flew from California. He is the fire marshal for the city of Los Angeles. He is interested in the center's research, especially when it comes to improving building codes.
He also is interested in future studies on embers and the wind. The Santa Ana winds sweep through California in the late fall and winter, frequently fanning wildfires. Embers from those fires cause millions in property damage. Hill predicted he and his staff will be back in Richburg numerous times to learn how to fight those fires and reduce property damage.
Christopher Carroll did not travel as far. Born, raised and residing in Rock Hill, Carroll works for Rockwell Automation. He has been on site almost full time since November 2008 when Rockwell was selected to provide the controls for the fans that can create everything from a gentle breeze to hurricane-force winds. At top speeds, the fans make the trees dance in the field beyond the test site.
There have been several technical firsts for Rockwell at the site, Carroll said. One of the biggest challenges was not affecting nearby industries such as Guardian Glass when the 105 fans are turned on.
When the fans come on, "you don't see a hiccup" in the power available at Guardian Glass or at other consumers, Carroll said.
The fans and potential noise have been a concern of Chester County leaders and project naysayers from the beginning. There are residences about 2,000 feet from the site. When the fans are running, the noise outside these homes is no louder than the average dishwasher, Parker said.
Carroll said the Institute for Business & Home Safety has been tremendous to work with. As a research institute, its leaders want to operate as openly as possible. For Carroll this means he can bring potential clients to the site, showing them what Rockwell has done for the institute and what it can do for them. So far, three clients have visited the institute, he said, and two have signed contracts.
Carroll declined to release specifics of the contracts but broke into a smile when asked if they were million-dollar contracts.
Carlisle Roddey, Chester County supervisor, was all smiles, too. Like many, Roddey was initially suspect of the project. "Why blow a perfectly good house down," he said. Yet when the insurance industry invested $40 million into the facility, he took notice.
Normally, that much money would mean lots of local taxes. But the council took the time to see potential. As a nonprofit, the institute could have located elsewhere and operated tax-free. To lure the institute, the council created a special source revenue credit, reducing the tax liability by 85 percent, Parker said.
But Roddey, Parker and others are counting on the institute to attract industrial businesses to Chester County.
More industrial businesses will mean more business for others, Parker said. It means more people in restaurants - Parker made sure people stopped at the Front Porch in Richburg to sample the fried squash, the fried pickles and the fried green tomatoes.
It also puts more people in hotels; Parker would like to see hotels upgrade their facilities. The challenge for area hotels will be to get the institute's visitors to stay in South Carolina, rather than renting a room in Charlotte. Another key will be meeting the institute's needs for meeting space. The institute has several small conference rooms. Large groups will have to meet off-site.
More business even means more planes on the tarmac at McWhirter Field in nearby Lancaster County.
While the institute selected the Richburg site for its proximity to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, many of its visitors will fly on private corporate jets. McWhirter's newly resurfaced runway is capable of handling most corporate aircraft, said airport manager Doug Barnes.
And maybe, most importantly, this will give Chester County residents a much-needed boost of pride. The county's unemployment rate has hovered at the 20 percent mark, putting the county near the top of the jobless list for the state. The continued high unemployment gives people the feeling that nothing will change, Parker said.
The institute's grand opening Tuesday "was a great moment," Parker said. "We need to capitalize on it. It has created excitement, and with excitement, expectations can rise."