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.

Aroha Arts Collective moves into Florence incubator facilities

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – Aroha Arts Collective danced into the Charles W. Gould Manufacturing and Business Incubator on Wednesday afternoon.

Aroha founder, director, and lead instructor Adalia Ellis-Aroha moved her dance instruction business into the incubator next to the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Ellis-Aroha said she had been renting studio space at several locations around Florence but decided her business needed a more permanent address. She said she has eventual plans of relocating her business into the downtown area of Florence.

“My business has been up and running for a while,” Ellis-Aroha said. “I was living in Raleigh but didn’t really kind of settle in to building a community until I was here in Florence.”

Ellis-Aroha also cut the ribbon to celebrate joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

She said she joined because of the chamber’s efforts in establishing businesses in the city’s downtown.

She said she grew up in Florence and left as a teenager. She also spent time in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Raleigh, and Myrtle Beach. Ellis-Aroha said she decided to come back to Florence after she got connected with Ezra Brown, the owner of Soule Café. Brown invited her to come to Florence and teach classes a couple of times a week.

“So many people came out and I saw that there was an interest for this style of dance,” Ellis-Aroha continued. “And so we decided to move here.”

Also, as a member of the Bahá’í Faith, she wanted to be closed to the activities in that community. According to, the Bahá’í Faith “is a world religion based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. He taught there is one God and one human family, and that the great religions of the world represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.”

Aroha Arts Collective features instruction in three types of Latin dance, kizomba, bachata, and salsa, as well as instruction in hip-hop, and afro-house.

The name “Aroha” derives from a Maori word that roughly translates to love. It is pronounced like the Hawaiian “Aloha” but with an “r” instead of an “l.” The Maori are the native people of the islands of New Zealand.

Ellis-Aroha said she adopted the name for her dance instruction classes while she was teaching in Abu Dhabi and a student of hers suggested the name.

“I was already trying to figure out what I wanted to have to describe my company, my organization as a dancer and this was the word she said, ‘I think the word that would fit was aroha,’” Ellis-Aroha said. “It means love, love of community, love of what you bring to the community, love of dance, love of art. It’s just so all-encompassing.”

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.”