Residence Inn in Florence shows off renovations

FLORENCE, S.C. – Employees and executives of the Residence Inn at 2660 Hospitality Blvd. joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to hold a Business After Hours event to celebrate renovations to the hotel.

Brittney Edwards, Corporate Director for Sales and Marketing at Raines Hospitality, said she was excited to unveil some of the new features of the hotel.

“We’re proud to be partnering with the Chamber for this event,” Edwards said. “They’ve done a great job and we’re really excited for everyone to see the renovations that have been done and, hopefully, welcome guests to come stay with us.”

Guests were treated to the musical stylings of SideSwiped and checked out the newly updated facility.

Edwards said the entire hotel was renovated, including the lobby, meeting room and guest rooms. The facility added new furniture, fixtures, flooring and many other features to revamp its overall look.

Edwards attributed the renewal of the hotel, in part, to the growth of the Florence community and the need for more hotels in the area.

“I think Florence in general is growing,” Edwards said. “We’re seeing great success with many organizations in the community with more businesses coming in and that’s helping us as a result. I’m from Florence originally, so it’s very exciting to see.”

Edwards said the Florence Chamber has been a great partnership for Raines Hospitality, which is a local business that oversees the Residence Inn, Springhill Suites and several other hotels around the area and state.

“The Chamber is a huge partner for us,” Edwards said. “They’re very supportive of everything going on in the community and they do an excellent job. We love partnering with them and they’re absolutely amazing.”

Edwards said the best part about being in the hospitality industry is being able to meet new people from all parts of the world.

“I’m such a people person,” Edwards said. “I’m a people pleaser and I love being able to get out there and interact with folks from all over.”

Jets can now fly into, out of Florence Regional Airport

By Audrey Biesk, WMBF News

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The Florence Regional Airport will soon see a full fleet of jets.

The larger aircraft are already flying in and out of the airport, and for the first time the older planes won’t be used at all anymore.

Dash 8 turboprops will transition out and 50 new regional passenger jets will transition in.

Ultimately there’s three key impacts Florence leaders said the transition will have on the region – convenience, recruiting more industry, and better reliability.

Jet service at the Florence Regional Airport is something the community has been working toward for quite some time.

“We would have loved to have had them two years ago is probably the answer, and I’m sure the airport would tell you the exact same,” Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said. “The delays that we’ve had because of worn equipment and Piedmont Airlines and American know that there was a transition on this, and everybody in town would have liked to have seen it sooner, but we’re just happy the transition has started.”

The hope is that by getting rid of the Dash 8 turboprops and transitioning to all jets, issues like unreliability will go away.

There’s been a lot of conversations with American Airlines to get Florence on the schedule to cycle the old planes out of the market. Connie Anderson, executive director of the Florence Regional Airport, said it’s been rewarding to see all the hard work pay off.

According to Anderson, American Airlines is offering support and took care of all personnel staff training months in advance, in anticipation of this change.

“From a recruitment standpoint, jet service makes all the difference in the world,” Miller said. “When you’re a business and flying people in and out of here – particularly your large Hondas and Otis elevator, QVC – they all want jet service and they will actually drive to have the service and then drive into Florence from the closest airport.”

Rich Spivey, assistant vice president for Honda South Carolina, said he flies in and out of Florence for business two to three times a month.

“We’ve definitely been looking for more reliability, on-time service, and this is a great plus for the Pee Dee region, Florence, Honda as a company,” Spivey said. “We do have a lot of associates that travel on a daily basis getting to Charlotte and all points elsewhere from Charlotte.”

Miller said the transition will help in bringing in more events and conventions to the region.

“That’s a requirement for these folks,” he said. “They want to know one thing; do we have road access, which Florence is blessed to have, but from an airport standpoint we didn’t have the jet service that most all of them really, really want to have conventions and so forth here, so that’s a big step for us.”

The airport expects a formal announcement in mid-April once the transition is complete.

Carolinas Hospital Women’s Center in Florence celebrates renovations

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Carolinas Hospital System Women’s Center held a Business After Hours event in conjunction with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the center’s new renovations.

Catherine Godwin, director of the women’s center, said she was excited to show the new technology and features in the building.

“We’re very excited about the new renovations,” Godwin said. “We’re excited we have a building to match our personality. This is going to be a great place to bring life into the world that is both family and baby friendly.”

As part of the event, the center had a ribbon cutting to announce the opening of the newly renovated building.

“We have been anticipating this for more than six months,” Godwin said. “It was a huge undertaking, but one that was well worth it after seeing the final product.”

The staff gave tours for the first time to ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders from around the area.

Godwin said some of the technologies include an all-new automatic lighting system and several safety features to make the birthing process easier on families. The rooms also have more space so that more family members can be involved in the delivery.

“Normally we have the entire family participate in the birth,” Godwin said. “Whatever the mom’s birth plan is, we do whatever we can to incorporate that.”

Godwin said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else and enjoys getting to work with mothers and families.

“It is my opportunity to be used as God would have me be used,” Godwin said. “It’s my calling and it’s my opportunity to give back because God has given me so much. To be able to be part of a family and welcome in a new life is an experience that I can’t even put into words. It never gets old.”

“I can go in and experience a live birth today and I think that I’ll be crying more than the family is,” Godwin said.

Carolinas Hospital will hold a community open house from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 10.

Florence County Council OKs tax deal with company

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence County Council approved an ordinance Thursday for a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement with the David C. Poole company Inc.

David C. Poole Company, a South Carolina corporation previously identified as “Project Railroad,” is one of the leading distributors of recycled fibers, woven fibers, spinning fibers and heavy denier in the Southeast.

The company is headquartered in Greenville and has a distribution and manufacturing center in Johnsonville.

“It’s going to mean more industrial development, which leads to more jobs being created,” said Kent Caudle, chairman of the Florence County Council. “That’s why we do things like this. We assist them, particularly when they start out, so that they will turn around and reinvest in our local economy.”

The council voted in favor of an ordinance to rezone about 1.535 acres owned by Leacon Inc. from unzoned district to planned development district on Second Loop Road and South Thomas Road.

An ordinance to construct a new well for the Timmonsville water system at $1,800 was passed on third reading.

“We transferred that portion of land to the City of Florence, which had bought that water system,” Caudle said. “We’re giving them some property so that the residents can be serviced in that area.”

Lighthouse Ministries

Lighthouse Ministries, an organization that assists in the community, asked for assistance of up to $24,000 with a nonrecurring capital project to retire the mortgage for its new building at 1416 W. Evans St.

“Lighthouse Ministries has served Florence County residents for more than 20 years and in 2017 we served more than 2,000 households with their basic needs,” said Cecilia Meggs, executive director of Lighthouse Ministries. “This past summer, Lighthouse Ministries had to unexpectedly move out of our home on Elm Street due to sudden and potentially dangerous deteriorations in the building.”

Lighthouse Ministries has more than 50 active volunteers and assists with deposits or payments of rent, utilities or necessary medications. They also provide traveler’s aid for stranded travelers and build ramps for those who are disabled in addition to many other family-oriented programs.

The request was received as information by the council.

Jr. Leadership Florence

Students in the Jr. Leadership Florence program participated in the morning’s meeting.

Jr. Leadership Florence is a program put on by the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, Francis Marion University and the Clemson Extension office.

“Leaders are not necessarily born, they’re made,” Caudle said. “It’s encouraging to me to see these students taking on leadership roles and contributing to the betterment of the community.”

The goal of the program is to expose the students to various career opportunities in Florence and show the youth what is going on in the community.

“This is very wonderful program,” County Councilman Waymon Mumford said. “It gives students a great opportunity to see what’s going on in the real world. These truly are our future leaders of tomorrow.”

Other business

The County Council approved up to $3,000 from council districts 3, 6 & 7 to replace two portable pitching mounds and one batting cage net at Francis Marion Recreation Park.

The council also approved up to $5,000 from District 5 infrastructure funding to replace two roll-up doors at the canteen at the Greenwood Athletic Complex.

SCNow Web Article – Florence County Council OKs tax deal with company

Florence Soccer Complex opens

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The city of Florence held a grand opening to celebrate the completion of construction at the new Florence Soccer Complex on Thursday.

The 14-field facility, at 3701 W. Palmetto St. on Soccer Way, was designed by AECOM Engineering and constructed by D&L Sitework.

Mayor Stephen Wukela said the city was excited to open the new complex.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wukela said. “The soccer community and the community at large is excited. This is a fine facility and it will serve our young people well and generate an enormous amount of economic activity as well.”

Wukela said the soccer complex, located right off I-95 on US-76, is the first of many projects to be completed this year. The city looks to open the brand new Pearl Moore Gym on Barnes Street, and will have about $15 million in assorted investments to use in the parks and recreation system.

“We’ve already seen the impacts of sports tourism here in Florence,” Wukela said. “What we’ve found is that we can build facilities that are of higher quality, funded by partners like the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation and the massive amount of money that comes from the hospitality tax, coming from those that stay in our hotels. Through that, you see economic development. As you see hotels and restaurants begin to pop up here, you’re going to continue to see growth.”

The Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation donated more than 90 acres of property to the city and contributed another $6 million toward field design and construction. The foundation is also providing additional funding, pledged at $1.5 million, for construction and design of a Soccer Center that will soon be built on the site.

“We hope that this property will not just be a great soccer complex, but that it will develop,” said Edward Floyd, board member of the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation. “There are many other things in the works out here. Florence is doing great and we have a great community filled with excellent leaders.”

The South Carolina Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department provided a $50,000 grant to assist with project construction. The city contributed to the project with $395,000 for water, sewer and storm water utilities and has also budgeted for staffing and materials for ongoing expenses.

Florence County helped the city by funding the relocation of a portion of Twin Church Road for the installation of a new entrance road to the complex through the proceeds from a countywide penny capital sales tax at $1,040,000.

“This is a wonderful project,” Florence County Councilman Willard Dorriety said. “Soccer has now surpassed baseball as the No. 1 played youth sport in the United States. The economic development that this can bring to this area and transform this intersection is important. We all need to continue to work together for the betterment of our community.”

The Florence Soccer Complex begins play with the first recreation league games on Saturday.

SCNow Web Article – Florence Soccer Complex opens

Chamber ambassadors expect Florence growth

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ambassadors from several organizations and businesses from around the area met Wednesday at Hotel Florence for a luncheon to kick off the 2018 year.

The Chamber announced Zach Hearne of Signature Wealth Strategies as the 2017 Ambassador of the Year.

“It’s humbling to be a part of seeing so much growth in Florence,” Hearne said. “Growing up being a Florence local, Florence wasn’t always what it is today. Just being able to see that growth has been exciting. There’s definitely been some sentimental value for me.”

Hearne, a former Francis Marion University soccer player, said he is excited about a new soccer complex being built on U.S. 76 just off Interstate 95.

“I’m looking forward to another year of strong growth,” Hearne said. “I think the soccer complex will help continue to build our tourism industry.”

Kristin Nesmith, of Adams Outdoor Advertising, finished second and Ellen Cooke, the owner of Freeman’s Bakery, finished third in the standings.

The points for ambassadors are accumulated through attendance at different events put on by the Chamber, hosting events, bringing guests and introducing new members to the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Jay Lavrinc, Director of Membership Relations at the Chamber, said the Chamber has 631 members, and approximately 55 percent of the membership comes from small businesses.

“There are new ones coming in every year,” Lavrinc said. “Over last year, the net gain was around 70 new businesses to join the chamber.”

Membership in the chamber provides opportunities for businesses to grow in the Florence community and network with other business owners to go along with many other benefits.

The Chamber’s mission is “to promote and enhance a favorable business climate and improve the quality of life to make Florence … the best community in which to live and operate a business.”

“I am truly excited about the outlook for 2018,” Lavrinc said. “We are seeing an influx of new and existing business joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. We have a great ambassador group that acts as an extension of the chamber while representing their own businesses in the community. I anticipate we will see major growth continuing in Florence this year.”

SCNow Web Article – Chamber ambassadors expect Florence growth

Jr. Leadership Florence attends Agribiz Expo

Despite the weather, we had an awesome day learning about South Carolina’s #1 industry during the 2018 SC Agribiz Expo at the Florence Center!

First Reliance completes purchase of Independence National Bank

FLORENCE, S.C. — First Reliance Tuesday announced that it completed the acquisition of Greenville, South Carolina-based Independence National Bank.

The combined company is expected to have approximately $550 million in assets, $370 million in gross loans, $440 million in deposits, 11 banking offices in South Carolina — including a branch in Myrtle Beach expected to open in February — and a loan production office in Winston Salem, N.C.

 The full conversion of the Independence National Bank systems is expected to be completed by March 5.

The acquisition of Independence National Bank expands First Reliance’s presence in the Greenville market and is an integral part of the bank’s broader strategy to expand its footprint in top-tier markets throughout North and South Carolina.

 “This is a transaction about a true local community bank acquiring one of the finest banking franchises remaining in Greenville, South Carolina. We are thrilled to welcome all the associates at Independence to the First Reliance team. As we work through the integration, our commitment to our customers will remain the same — to continue to deliver a superior community banking model of strong relationships and incredible service. We are passionate about our mission to make the lives of our customers better and look forward to sharing our passion and values with the Greenville customers who value the loyal relationship they have with the Independence National Bank team,” said Rick Saunders, President and CEO.

The closing of this transaction comes on the heels of several new significant developments for First Reliance over the past six months, including:

  • Raising $25.1 million of additional capital in September 2017
  • Jack McElveen joining the bank in September 2017 as Chief Credit Officer
  • Kemper Kenan joining the bank as City Executive for Greenville, South Carolina in late 2017
  • David Barksdale joining the bank as President of North Carolina in early 2018
  • Ben Brazell being named as President of South Carolina in early 2018
  • Ron Paige joining the bank as City Executive for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in early 2018

SCNow Web Article – First Reliance completes purchase of Independence National Bank

Florence Center kicks off completion of expansion

By: Brenda Harrison, The News Journal

We’ve watched and maneuvered around the construction at the former Florence Civic Center for the past year and now the work has been completed.

With a new name and new look, The Florence Center showed off its expanded space following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 24 with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

The new addition and renovation adds 25,000 square feet to the facility for a total of 75,000 square feet of flexible space.

The $16 million expansion project began in January 2017. It includes 8,000 sq. ft. of space which can be subdivided into large or small meeting rooms, a junior ballroom, a new 5,000 sq. ft. state-of-the art kitchen, an 8,000 sq. ft. outdoor patio, and a 12,000 sq. ft. pre-function and vendor spaces, along with enhancements to existing spaces.

This expansion extends available services in the conference, wedding, convention and trade show business, said Paul Beard, Director of the Florence Center.

When the venue opened in 1993, he said, it was celebrated as a civic arena with a couple meeting rooms. Now it is a major conference center adjoining a 10,000-seat arena, he noted, before announcing three new events that will be housed at the Florence Center this year.

The Pee Dee State Fair will take place Sept. 6-16, he continued. The South Carolina Bridal Show will be held on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. and the new Jingle Bell Market will take place on Nov. 15.

Beard stressed that no tax dollars were spent on the project. He also noted that the economic impact of the Civic Center was $42 million and that those funds help drive what’s going on downtown as well as in the hospitality district.

“This puts heads in beds every time we have an event,” he commented. With us being located at the intersections of I-20 and I-95, we are literally almost dead center geographically for New York and Miami.”

Nick Hooker, senior marketing manager at the Florence Center said it is exciting to be kicking off the new space in conjunction with the Center’s 25th anniversary. It is time to take the Center to a new level, he said, adding he looks forward to continue growing with Florence. Web Article – Florence Center kicks off completion of expansion

Florence’s Staybridge Suites to open in summer

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Raldex Hospitality is proving it is invested in the Florence area with the construction of a new hotel, the Staybridge Suites at 150 Westpark Drive near the Florence Center.

Raldex Hospitality owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express, the Hilton Garden Inn and two Hampton Inn & Suites in Florence.

Gregg Parsons, president of Raldex, said the plan is for Staybridge Suites to open by midsummer as the team eyes the final few phases of construction.

 “Our whole team is extremely excited,” Parsons said. “This will be the fifth hotel here, and currently we have around 230 team members at the hotels, and all of them are excited about the new one opening.”

With the opening of the new hotel, Parsons said, Raldex Hospitality will have invested $80 million in the Pee Dee area.

“Florence is a great location,” Parsons said. “With access to two interstates and growing industries, there are several different markets to provide hotels. Everything we have is right here in Florence. We have a large investment, and that’s how we want it to be.”

The Staybridge Suites will offer an “extended stay” brand, which is designed for travelers and businesspeople looking for somewhere to stay multiple nights.

The hotel will have 112 rooms and guests can choose a one-bedroom, two-bedroom or studio-style suite, which all come with full kitchens.

The Staybridge Suites also has a 2,600-square-foot meeting space that can be broken into three smaller spaces, which can be used as a large ballroom or for classrooms, business events or banquets.

The hotel offers several amenities, including complimentary breakfast, a business center, fitness center, laundry facilities and an outdoor pool with a fire pit and grill area.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Robin Osborne, general manager of Staybridge Suites. “We’re excited to have the extended-stay brand, and we believe this is going to provide a great service to people coming into our community.”

Osborne said the location of the hotel will be instrumental in driving business.

“This area is where I-20 and I-95 come together,” Osborne said. “It’s a good stopover for anyone traveling through. The Florence area is growing with a lot of new corporate businesses, and this location has a lot of dining options, the rail trail, tennis courts are close by and the new soccer complex is close to being finished.”

The hotel will begin accepting reservations for meetings and events starting in mid-to-late summer.