After a good 2018, Pee Dee business leaders look ahead positively

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — The outlook for the Florence business community in 2019 is positive, according to local business and industry leaders.

From the Florence Center’s newly constructed 25,000-square foot facility that opened in January to Carolina Bank’s $4.5 million investment in its new headquarters in downtown Florence, which opened December, and everything in between, Florence saw major economic development in 2018.

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said 2018 was a busy year for growth in the Pee Dee region.

“It’s been a busy year, starting with the opening of the new $32 million County Judicial Center in downtown Florence,” Miller said. “We have seen many national retailers like Lidl, Home Goods, Five-Below, H&M and Forever 21 opening doors in our market — along with dozens of other local and regional new retailers.”

Miller said several key milestones, including Honda of South Carolina celebrating its 20-year anniversary, the opening of the new Florence County Judicial Center, the Dillon Port Project and the $7 million investment in the Darlington Raceway were all major accomplishments for the area.

“Certainly, the expansion of the Florence Center and the opening of the new soccer facility were critical and needed project completions,” Miller said. “And it was great to see Carolina Bank having a soft opening to their new three-story downtown Florence offices.”

Joe W. King, executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said the expansions across the county highlighted 2018.

“There’s a lot of glamour in bringing in something new — all the ribbon cuttings, grand openings and things of that nature,” King said. “But we also have to take care of people here. That’s what those expansions did.”

King said that some of the tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminum could’ve played a part in costing Florence county economic growth. He said he is interested in seeing how those affect Florence moving forward.

“There were several projects that we [Florence County] were short-listed for, but due to the tariffs, they were stopped,” King said. “In 2019, I expect those to continue to affect us in certain areas, but I believe industries we re-analyze and that the projects will come back.”

King said it’s tough to predict the outlook for a year, but he expects a positive return for Florence County.

“We’ve got several projects on the horizon,” King said. “I think what we have in the pipeline is a positive outlook for 2019. It’s tough, in many ways, to project forward though because of the volatility of the stock market and things of that nature.”

In 2019, Miller said he is looking forward to more expected announcements for downtown Florence projects, including Francis Marion University’s medical classroom complex.

“These projects along with the new downtown Hyatt hotel will create more activity for existing restaurants and business establishments,” Miller said. “There are further expansion possibilities with current area manufactures that could be announced next year, including Honda of South Carolina that will celebrate production of a new product in January.”

Miller said he expects continued growth with more businesses flocking to Florence, not just in 2019 but in the considerable future.

“Just as we started out in 2018, you can anticipate another year of solid business progress,” Miller said. “Retail will continue to offer new national brand and local business openings. You’ll see more downtown Florence project announcements and some regional manufacturing expansions. Hospitality will continue to be a major factor in our growth. Hotels like the eight-story Staybridge Suites that just opened near Florence Center and the planned February opening of the 103 room Hyatt Place Hotel in downtown Florence will drive complementing new restaurant announcements as well.”