Francis Marion University to host 21st Annual MLK Celebration

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Francis Marion University’s annual remembrance Martin Luther King celebration will be Jan. 17 in Chapman Auditorium on the FMU campus. The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce is co-sponsor of the event.

The event, which brings together both the region and the FMU family to celebrate King his legacy in the field of civil and human rights, will begin at 6:15 p.m. with a candlelight march. The march begins on the front lawn of the Wallace House and processes to the McNair Science Building and the Chapman Auditorium.

The 21st Annual MLK Jr. Celebration Program will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Chapman Auditorium, with performances by Young, Gifted and Blessed Gospel Choir and others. South Carolina Rep. Carl Anderson of Georgetown will provide the event’s keynote address.

Dr. Daphne Carter-McCants, FMU’s assistant president for student affairs and one of the event’s organizers, says the importance of the event cannot be overstated as it provides a valuable forum for the campus and surrounding community as a whole to learn of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

McCants says the event is a great way to educate FMU’s students and the community as a whole on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Florence One Schools superintendent says contractor to be picked soon for McClenaghan renovations

By: Joshua Lloyd

FLORENCE, S.C. – Superintendent Richard O’Malley told the Florence One Schools board Thursday that a contractor is expected to be selected by the end of the month to renovate the McClenaghan building.

At Thursday’s meeting, the school district welcomed two new school board members and three returning school board members, as well as elected a chairman, vice chairwoman and secretary.

The district will renovate the McClenaghan building and move the Poynor Adult Education to McClenaghan. Then, the district plans to move forward with the creation of a magnet high school in the Poynor building.

Currently, the district has sent a request for proposals and received responses to the request for hiring a contractor for the renovations, which will be selected by the end of the month, O’Malley said.

The district has also written to the mayor and the Florence City Council to receive the $12 million from the agreement with the city that was made in 2016 to move forward with the renovations.

Chairman Barry Townsend said for the money to be transferred from the city to Florence One Schools, there had to have been expenditures made on the project. He also said the district requested the money be transferred by the end of January.

The McClenaghan building was formerly a school in Florence, but has been empty.

“It’s a beautiful building with a ton of history, and we’ve got a lot of city leaders who did go to school there and would love to see it as a part of the downtown revitalization,” Townsend said. “The great thing about it is with Poynor right here beside us and McClenaghan just a block away, you combine that with the Florence Little Theatre and the library, it’s really going to help further the renovations up Dargan Street.”

Several board members expressed their excitement about the McClenaghan building finally being renovated.

“I am glad to see you do it,” said school board member Trisha Caulder. “I think we need to do it.”

During the board of trustees meeting, Artie Buxton and Davy Gregg took oath on the school board for the first time. E.J. McIver, Trisha Caulder and Bryan Chapman took their oath for another term on the school board.

The board also re-elected Townsend as chairman of the board. Caulder is vice chairwoman and Porter Stewart is secretary of the board.

Sweet Frog cuts ribbon for second Florence store

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – A Sweet Frog hopped into the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Sweet Frog manager Raketta Johnson cut the ribbon to mark the occasion just after noon at the Sweet Frog at 2417-C David McLeod Blvd.

She said the business joined the chamber as a way of getting more business and publicity. Johnson added that the ownership group also owns the 960 Pamplico Highway Sweet Frog, which she also manages.

Johnson has served as a manager of the Florence Sweet Frogs for about a month and a half.

She said she previously served as a manager of the Hartsville Sweet Frog. She said that she had been working for Sweet Frog for three years and that she enjoyed watching children come in and pick out their favorite combination of favor and add-ons.

“I have a good staff,” Johnson added.

Sweet Frog is a frozen yogurt franchise. The first location was opened in Richmond, Va., in 2009 by a Korean immigrant who founded the company based upon Christian principles. It has been reported by other media outlets that the Frog part of the name is an abbreviation for “fully relying on God.” There are now over 300 Sweet Frog locations.

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce has around 600 business members. Its 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.”

The David McLeod Sweet Frog is open from noon to 8 p.m. daily. The Pamplico Highway Sweet Frog is open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

For more information about Sweet Frog, visit

For more information about the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, visit or call 843-665-0515.

Doctor opens Florence office to offer treatment of pain

By: Staff Reports

FLORENCE, S.C. — Pee Dee residents with pain problems have another option with the opening of Atlantic Coast Pain Specialists in Florence.

Located at 491 W Cheves St., Suite B, is the Florence branch of the Conway office of Dr. Blake Kline, who is no stranger to Florence. He is the former chief of anesthesiology at Carolinas Hospital System.

The purpose of the Florence office is to evaluate patients to see if they can be helped at the main office or if their pain can be managed locally by a nurse practitioner who will be stationed at the Florence office, Kline said.

A ribbon cutting was held at the Florence office on Wednesday, attended by ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Kline first located to Florence in 2002 with the position at Carolinas Hospital System. After serving in that role for 10 years he practiced with Florence Neurosurgery and Spine for three years before he went out on his own with Atlantic Coast Pain Specialists.

He still has patients from his time in Florence who travel to Conway who will now be able to use the Florence location, he said.

Kline said his practice offers such pain treatments and interventional techniques as epidural steroid injections, nerve root injections, spinal cord stimulators, minimally invasive lumbar decompression, minimally invasive coracoplasty for broken backbones and radio frequency ablation to burn nerves — a treatment that can relieve pain for up to two years at a time.

Currently, surgical procedures take place in Conway, but Kline said he is working on being able to conduct them at Carolinas Hospital System in Florence.

With the nation working through an opioid crisis, Kline said, his practice offers solutions to either reduce, or eliminate, the need for the drug.

If it is required, though, Kline said, his office was qualified to manage patients’ pain with opioids.

A member of the American Society of Anesthesiology, Pain Society of the Carolinas, Kline earned his undergraduate degree from Coastal Carolina University and his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. He did his pain training at the Medical College of Georgia as well as in Augusta, Ga., he said.

 The Florence office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to noon Friday. The office phone number is 843-407-4532.

Negotiations still on for $65 million downtown Florence project

By: Tonya Brown

Negotiations are still taking place for a project that could result in a $65 million investment for downtown Florence, according to City of Florence Downtown Manager Ray Reich.

“Because it still in the negotiation stage of it, we can’t talk about it. But it’s going to be a multi-use. It will create more housing, I can tell you that. Which right now, all of the housing and downtown is at 100 percent occupancy. So, we know that we have more people that want to live downtown so when you talk about a $65 million investment, that’s a lot of money. And that’s private sector money, so we are excited about it. And we hope will be able to announce it hopefully by mid year,” said Ray Reich, Florence downtown manager.

Reich said in addition to that project, the new 103 bed hotel opens next month in the downtown district along with three new restaurants.

“We are excited that the new Hyatt Place hotel will be opening up in February. So that’s just around the corner that will add another 103 rooms to downtown and there’s new people coming in every night which can spend money in restaurants,” said Reich.

Florence City Mayor Stephen Wukela envisioned new growth for the downtown district some 10 years ago.

Wukela and city council members worked hard to spur change. There are restaurants, retail shops, museums, a performing arts center, bank and much more in downtown Florence.

“Florence really does not have an iconic tourist destination, like some cities have, but Florence can’t be much like Greenville. We aren’t Greenville; when you think Greenville, you think downtown. That is their tourist destination and we want to do the same thing with Downtown Florence. And we think we’re well on our way to accomplishing that,” added Reich.

Many people across Florence said they love what the downtown has transformed into over the years.

“I’m a big fan of the changes. Growing up, been here for the past 10 years or so. It’s just been fun to kind of see downtown become something bigger than it was, you know, become something better than it was. Something new and fresh and just a cultural hub for all sorts of people,” said Charles Jeffcoat.

Any new developments with the potential $65 million downtown project will be reported here on

Apartments proposed on Irby Street in Florence

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – New apartments could be constructed soon in Florence.

The city of Florence Design Review Board is expected to consider today whether to grant a certificate of appropriateness for apartments to be constructed in the 700 block of South Irby Street. The board will meet at 2 p.m. in the city council chambers.

Plans provided to the design review board indicate that two buildings would be constructed: an 18-unit, three-story building parallel to South Irby Street and a 22-unit, three-story building in the southwest corner of the property. The latter building will be perpendicular to South Irby Street.

The new apartment buildings would be between the Insurance agency of Dewey Powers and Creel Tire.

The application to construct the properties has been made by Drew Schaumber. Schaumber appears to be a real estate developer.

The property upon which the apartments may be constructed is owned by Rogers Family Investment Holdings LLC.

The design review board is a 10-member board consisting of a professional architect, a member with experience in financing commercial and residential property, a member actively engaged in industry, a general contractor, a professional structural engineer, a member experienced in landscape design, a member of the city staff, two persons engaged in business in the city’s downtown, and two at-large residents. It is tasked with performing functions related to the city’s overlay district and historic preservation according to city code.

Students at Savannah Grove in Florence learn about computer science

By: Lauren Owens

FLORENCE, S.C. – During the January Fellows in Education meeting on Tuesday, participants learned about the computer science immersion program at Savannah Grove Elementary School that teaches students about the basics of coding.

Fellows who are participating in a program led by The School Foundation, Florence One Schools and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce visited various classrooms during the tour, including the STEAM lab for third- through sixth-grade students, where students learn coding through using LEGOs, LEGO WeDo kits and a program called Scratch.

Savannah Grove Elementary School STEM coach Haley Taylor told the fellows during her presentation that computer science is important for building math and writing skills, gaining creativity and confidence and preparing for future careers.

“It’s teaching them the skills they need,” Taylor said.

Principal David Copeland gave a presentation on the school’s mission to give students a 21st-century learning environment using research-based practices and his own passion for the school, as well as day-to-day life at Savannah Grove Elementary.

“When I think about where I came from and where I am now, I am grateful,” Copeland said. “That’s why this place is so special to me, and I am so excited to share my vision with our students.”

Copeland said the school has some daily challenges, such as a two-lane car line, one lunchroom line, no fence around the school.

Fellow Teresa Meyers Ervin, who is a 1981 graduate of Florence One Schools and a member of the Florence City Council, said she is impressed with the administration, teachers and students at Savannah Grove Elementary School. She said she enjoyed the energy of the teachers and the students in the classroom.

Ervin said she hopes to see the community and district help invest in the teachers through giving them proper support and pay to help them continue to educate children at the school.

Fellows in Education exposes Florence-area business leaders to the challenges and successes in local schools.

SC chamber eyes tax reform, teacher shortage in 2019

By: Matthew Christian

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2019 Competitiveness Agenda on Monday.

The agenda focuses on reforming the state’s tax code and improving the state’s workforce development program, including addressing the teacher shortage.

“The SC Chamber is excited to announce its 2019 Competitiveness Agenda, a set of policy priorities that will move South Carolina forward and create jobs in the state,” Chamber chief executive officer Ted Pitts said in a news release. “The business community stands ready to roll up its sleeves to work with the General Assembly to achieve these goals this session.”

Tax Reform

The chamber’s agenda calls for simplifying and lowering the state’s top marginal tax rate of 7 percent, the updating and modernizing of the state’s sales tax system, improving the equitability of property taxes on commercial, non-owner occupied and manufacturing property while addressing funding disparities, and a reformation of the state’s business license tax structure.

The chamber says that South Carolina’s top marginal rate is the highest in the Southeast and kicks in at $14,860. In many cases the effective rate for taxpayers is also the highest in the Southeast.

South Carolina and Virginia have the narrowest sales tax bases in the Southeast, according to information provided by the chamber.

Rural commercial properties face an average effective rate of 2.8 percent in South Carolina as compared to 1.8 percent nationally, according to the chamber. Urban manufacturing properties in the Palmetto State face the fifth-highest effective rate in the nation, according to the news release.

“The business community is united. It is time for South Carolina to overhaul its broken tax structure, including the unfair property tax system, and we are ready to partner with stakeholders from across the state to get it done,” said Lou Kennedy, the chamber chair. “Tax reform is going to make South Carolina more competitive, and that is a win for families and businesses.”

South Carolina’s business license tax system is one of the most costly and burdensome taxes for small businesses, said Steve Spinks, president of the Spinx Company.

“As a business owner that operates stores across many counties in the state, I can tell you from first-hand experience that South Carolina needs to reform the business license tax system,” Spinks said.

South Carolina’s current tax structure was built more for the 1950s economy, said Chris Barras, Ernst and Young’s executive director of tax services.

“This creates challenges for individual taxpayers and businesses,” Barras said. “We have an opportunity to modernize our tax code with a comprehensive and intentional approach using The Road Map for Tax Reform as a guide.”

The Road Map to Tax Reform is a chamber guide to improving the state’s tax system.

“There is no question that South Carolina’s tax code needs to be overhauled to make it more competitive, less burdensome and more equitable for job creators and families,” Pitts said. “Similarly, our businesses can’t thrive without a well-prepared workforce, so we focus on improving the education pipeline, including combating the teacher shortage.”

Workforce development

The chamber calls for the supporting of efforts to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, making housing in high-growth areas more attainable, striving for the expansion of career-awareness and training initiatives to fill high-demand jobs and making it easier for qualified professionals to be credentialed and certified in the state.

“Developing the future workforce is critical to the continued growth and success of our company,” said Knudt Flor, president of BMW Manufacturing Company. “The BMW Scholars Apprenticeship Program plays a key role in keeping our plant competitive. This program continues to be an excellent example of how collaboration between the business and educational sectors can ensure that advanced manufacturing remains a key driver for our state in years to come. Training programs like this and others should be expanded. Manufacturers stand ready to do what it takes to increase awareness and training opportunities across the state.”

Education is the pipeline for tomorrow’s workforce, said Kathy Dudley Helms, an Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. shareholder.

“The business community needs our state’s policy makers to address the persistent issues that exist in the public education system,” Helms said. “We have to value our teachers with better pay and working conditions; we must prepare students for the jobs of today with more skills training and apprenticeship opportunities; and we have to update the funding model.”

The chamber’s board developed the 2019 Competitiveness Agenda through input from the business community and its partner, the Tax Foundation.

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce says it’s a statewide organization that promotes pro-job and pro-business policies at the state and federal level.

CBD Store holds ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Staff Reports

FLORENCE, S.C. — A day after celebrating its grand opening Your CBD Store on Second Loop Road in Florence had its Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting.

Located at 2405-J Second Loop Road in Florence, the store specializes in CBD (cannabidiol) oils, said Eugene and Ashley Jacobs, owners of the Florence franchise.

“We did a little research on the need for CBD oil in the area and after a long discussion, visiting a few CBD stores and seeing if it was a good fit we decided to invest,” Eugene Jacobs said. “We thought it would be a good fit for the area.”

“I think it’s going to be great for the Florence community. There is a big need for it and I see it becoming a bigger need,” Ashley Jacobs said.

Eugene Jacobs is from Rockingham and Ashley Jacobs from Dillon.

He works in direct sales and is a Realtor in the Pee Dee.

“I decided I didn’t have enough to do and I needed one more thing going on in my life,” Eugene Jacobs said. “Florence has been a good fit for us.”

Ashley Jacobs said the oils have zero THC — the chemical that produces the “high” associated with marijuana.

“All the benefits without the high. A lot of people cannot handle the high,” Jacobs said.