Young Professionals’ “Nachos ‘n’ Networking” Social

Young Professionals of Florence held their March monthly social at King Jefe on Thursday, March 21. Thanks to True Light Photography for these great pictures from that night! To learn more about Young Professionals or to find an application, click here.

Southern 500 to Start 2020 NASCAR Playoffs

by Staff Reports

Darlington Raceway will kick off the NASCAR Playoffs in 2020 with the NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 scheduled for Sunday, September 6. It will be Darlington Raceway’s first-ever appearance in NASCAR’s current postseason format.

The track will host its throwback festivities on Labor Day weekend for the sixth consecutive year after returning to its traditional race date in 2015.

“To be able to host our Labor Day throwback weekend as the first race of the NASCAR Playoffs will create tremendous excitement and enthusiasm for our fans,” said track President Kerry Tharp. “Darlington Raceway, considered one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, will definitely challenge the drivers right from the start of the postseason. To combine our throwback weekend, which celebrates the sport’s past, present and future, with the initial start to the championship run, should provide plenty of additional excitement, and energy to the entire weekend.”

To see the full 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, visit

You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at Fans are encouraged to post their Bojangles’ Southern 500 stories and memories at, #BojanglesSo500 and #SportClips200.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Nicole Echols Receives Fred R. Sheheen Award for Excellence

Florence News Journal

Nicole Echols of Harvest Hope Food Bank received the Fred R. Sheheen Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership.

The award recognizes individuals of the statewide nonprofit membership organization Together SC, who have utilized organizational and resource development to effectively manage a nonprofit group. It is sponsored by the Fred Sheheen Non-Profit Leadership Institute at Francis Marion University.

Echols is the 13th recipient of the award. In 2018, Nicole returned to Harvest Hope Food Bank after three years with the American Red Cross. She had previously worked there from 2011-2015.

The mission of Harvest Hope is to provide for the needs of hungry people by gathering and sharing quality food with dignity, compassion and education. Upon returning, Nicole had a vision of where the organization was going and began to implement necessary and positive changes. This included recruiting a diverse advisory board, a referral-based food pantry, and a giveaway for government employees impacted by the government shutdown. In addition to her work with Harvest Hope, Echols is an active board member for various other nonprofit groups including Women in Philanthropy, MINGLE of the Pee Dee, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Florence First Steps.

“When your paycheck, passion and purpose all align, you are destined for excellence and great things. I am truly humbled, but I didn’t do anything different than any of you, or our Harvest Hope team and our donors and wonderful volunteers and supporters did this morning. You all woke up with a passion to help someone in need. For that, each one of us deserves this award,”said Echols.

To read the full article on Florence News Journal, click here.

Greater Florence Chamber Outlook Luncheon

by Matthew Robertson

Florence’s business community turned out by the hundreds Tuesday afternoon for the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Outlook Luncheon at the Florence Center. Florence Chick-fil-A’s Blake Pate was name small business person of the year at the event.

To view the full gallery on SC Now, click here.

Speaker at Florence Event Cautions Against Implicit Biases

by Matthew Christian

Dr. Atiya Stokes-Brown provided the keynote address at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Building Bridges Diversity and Leadership Summit.

Stokes-Brown’s speech focused on developing a diverse and inclusive workforce. A portion of her talk also was about avoiding implicit biases.

Implicit biases, according to Stanford University, are relatively unconscious judgments and relatively automatic judgments of social behaviors.

In response to a question, Stokes-Brown talked about the need to explore implicit biases on an age-appropriate level with children so that the implicit biases do not become an ingrained habit.

Stokes-Brown is the assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion at Coastal Carolina University at Conway. She joined the Coastal Carolina faculty after a 10-year career at Bucknell University, a liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she served in the department of political science, as an assistant dean in the college of arts and sciences, and as an interim associate provost for diversity and inclusion.

She is a graduate of Randolph-Macon Women’s College, Temple University, and the University of Maryland-College Park.

Other panelists and speakers at the event included Florence City Councilwoman Teresa Myers Ervin, Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Director of Community and Minority Enterprise Les Echols, Dr. Louis Venters from Francis Marion University, Toyinda Smith of Leadership Strategy and Consulting, Luncida Fountain of Honda of South Carolina, Starlee Alexander of State Farm, Pamela Elliott of McLeod Health, Twana McRae of the South Carolina Federal Credit Union, Dr. Erica James of Francis Marion University, and Dr. Marc David of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

The mission of the Building Bridges Summit is to enable the community address issues of diversity by a process of changing attitudes through education.

The mission of the Florence Chamber 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.”

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Ports Chief Sees Growth for Dillon Facility

by Matthew Christian

South Carolina Ports Authority CEO James Newsome on Tuesday afternoon listed three areas of potential growth for Inland Port Dillon: retail distribution, export transload facilities, and manufacturing.

Newsome, who has been president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority since Sept. 1, 2009, was the featured speaker at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce 2019 Outlook Luncheon in the ballroom of the Florence Center.

Retail distribution is a growth area, Newsome said, because of the inland port’s location just off Interstate 95’s Exit 190.

“That’s an essential artery for that,” Newsome added.

Inland Port Dillon already has one transload facility for C&M Hog Farm.

Transloading is the process of changing from one type of transportation to another. In this case, from trucks to rail.

Newsome also cited the location of the inland port as the reason for potential manufacturing growth.

Already, a manufacturing plant has located in Marion County citing the availability of the inland port.

Inland Port Dillon was opened in 2018 and it’s estimated that the port will take five years to reach its planned capacity.

Newsome also addressed the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

“I’ve heard it said— I think it was on CNBC— South Carolina is probably the state in the country that is the most dependent on global trade of any state,” Newsome said.

He added that he hoped the dispute would be solved quickly and that free trade would be allowed to continue.

Other areas of growth for the port include the deepening of the harbor at the Wando terminal in Charleston, the refurbishment of the Wando terminal, and the opening of phase 1 of the Leatherman terminal, which is named after Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. of Florence.

In several places in his speech, Newsome praised the efforts of Leatherman to provide funds to the ports authority. Prior to 2019, Leatherman served as president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate. He continues to serve as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which controls the budget-writing process for that chamber of the South Carolina General Assembly.

“I can’t thank Senator Leatherman enough,” Newsome said. “Almost from my first day, I had the support of Senator Leatherman.”

Leatherman provided the introduction for Newsome at the luncheon. Leatherman was introduced by John Brand, son of Florence Mayor Pro Tempore Frank J. “Buddy” Brand.

A Savannah native, Newsome served as president of Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc. and as an executive vice president with Nedlloyd Lines from 1987 to 1997. He also spent 10 years with Strachan Shipping Company, where he was president of its Hoegh Lines Agencies subsidiary.

The South Carolina Ports Authority, established by the state’s General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport and intermodal facilities in Charleston, Dillon, Georgetown and Greer. The port operations facilitate 187,200 statewide jobs and generate nearly $53 billion annual economic activity.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Community Leaders Gather for Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

Local Business Owner Receives Award


On Tuesday, 500 community leaders came together for the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. 

The guest speaker was James Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority.

The “Small Business Person of the Year Award” was given to Blake Pate, who has been operating a local Chick-fil-A for 10 years.

“It was massively important, I was lucky enough to get to work side by side with my dad for about seven years, and I just learned so much from him and took so much from him, and the fact that he won this award five years ago and now I get to win it, just means a lot it’s a lot, so it pretty awesome,” said Pate, the operator of Chick-fil-A in West Florence.

Pate’s Chick-fil-A location will soon eclipse the $125,000 mark in scholarships awarded to employees over the past ten years.

To read the full article and to watch the video on WBTW News, click here.

Blake Pate Named Small Business Person of the Year in Florence

by Ardie Arvidson

Blake Pate followed in his father’s footsteps on Tuesday when he was named the 2019 Small Business Person of the Year during the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Outlook Luncheon at the Florence Center.

The award, sponsored by Dedicated Community Bank for the past five years, was awarded to Pate’s father, David Pate, the first year of the bank’s sponsorship.

“I miss my dad a lot every day,” Pate said. “He taught me so much.”

Pate said he and his wife are excited to be in Florence.

“I always knew Florence would be my home,” he said.

His father was in the business for about 30 years and died in 2018. He said his father received the award two years before he retired.

Blake Pate, owner of Chick-fil-A West Florence, has been a Chick-fil-A operator 10 years.

Pate said winning the award and following in his father’s footsteps mean a lot to him. He said there are so many others deserving of the award.

Announcing the award, Jim Ivey, president and CEO of Dedicated Community Bank, said “Blake Pate was not handed a restaurant — he had to stand on his own through the very difficult process of becoming a Chick-fil-A operator in Magnolia Mall. Then, he had to interview again to become the operator of the former drive-thru location, which was renovated last year into a beautiful free-standing restaurant.”

Active in the community, Pate supports all three public high schools and most of the private schools in Florence, Ivey said. He has been active in coaching. He is the Wilson High School boys’ soccer team head coach. He also holds leadership positions with the Boys Scouts, the Florence Symphony Orchestra and St. Luke Lutheran Church and is president-elect of the Florence Rotary Club.

“Blake was the perfect choice for the Small Business of the Year Award,” said Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. “He does so much work for the community, but does it in a quiet and effective way. Humble might be the best way to describe his demeanor and generous might be the best way to describe his way of contributing to our communities.”

Chick-fil-A sponsors a host of events in the community. Among them are the Florence Athletic Hall of Fame, the Florence Little Theatre’s Children’s Workshop Program, the Florence Soccer Association, The Girls Scouts, Francis Marion University, McLeod Health and Fitness, the Florence County Museum’s Pee Dee Regional Art Competition, the Miracle League, Habitat for Humanity, the Pee Dee Coalition Againist Domestic and Sexual Assault, Florence County Disabilities and Special Needs and many others.

Ivey said Pate’s location is poised to reach the $125,000 mark in scholarships awarded to employees this year.

Pate said he has already presented scholarships this year to 28 team members, representing about $2,500 per scholarship.

Pate and his wife, Annie, are expecting their first child this summer.

“This is very special for us since his father was given the award a few years ago,” Annie said.

In addition to the Small Business Person of the Year Award, the chamber recognized the Ambassador of the Year.

Brian Davison, director of sales for the Florence Center, was named Chamber Ambassador of the Year 2018. He was one of the most active chamber representatives during the year. He attended ribbon cuttings and Business After Hours events and made member visits throughout the year,

The chamber has been busy this year, Miller said. It has conducted 13 difference business seminars. In the last 30 days, the chamber has presented a Legislative Breakfast with Drew Griffin, Florence city manager, as speaker; Business After Hours with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office; Young Professionals of Florence Social; Leadership Florence Legislative Day; Fellows in Education Day; Youth Apprenticeship Accelerator Meeting; Building Bridges Summit; and the Outlook Luncheon.

Coming up are the CEO Breakfast on March 21 at Hope Health; How to Start and Grow Your Business on March 21 at the Florence Chamber; Young Professionals “Nachos ‘n’ Networking on March 21 at King Jefe; Fellow in Education Gathering on April 2 at Carter Elementary; Jr. Leadership Education Day on April 4 at the Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences; Leadership Florence Local Government/Law Enforcement Day on April 9; Doing Business with Government on April 15 at Florence Chamber; Leadership Florence Class 2018-19 Oyster Roast on April 18 at the Florence Center; Administrative Professional Day Luncheon on April 24 at the Florence Center; Chamber Spring Golf Tournament on May 2 at The Traces Golf Club; and Leadership Florence Business and Industry Day on May 14.

Miller said the chamber has the highest number of social media followers in the state of any chamber of commerce with the exception of Myrtle Beach.

The Florence Chamber has about 650 members with more than 1,700 members associates.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Construction Underway on Million Dollar Florence Farmers Market, Commercial Kitchen

by Nia Watson

People in Florence will soon have more access to fresh, locally grown food.

Construction is underway on a $1.3 million City Center Farmers Market and commercial kitchen in downtown Florence.

“It’s adding a lot of the farmers market that having some tents in a parking lot simply don’t provide,” Florence City Manager Drew Griffin, said.

The building on Sanborn Street will be a larger, permanent home for the farmers market. Griffin said they chose the location because of the lack of access to food deeming the area a food desert.

“It’s walkable both from the south as well as north and we hope to promote this idea of healthy food for all,” Griffin said.

David White is a vendor at the market and the owner of Maypop Farms in Darlington. He said he started selling at the market in December and is looking forward to the new facility.

“I think it’s a good idea. It’ll certainly be a more comfortable spot to do the market,” White said.

Griffin said the new building will include a commercial kitchen certified by the state health department, as well as a venue space. He said this will allow more people to sell at the farmers market and bring more food options to the area.

“That could be home base for some of these food trucks so we’re really looking to expanding that concept,” Griffin said.

White said he also has some potential plans to put the kitchen in use.

“We don’t have a source for yogurt and if we can make cottage cheese and yogurt out of our milk that would be great,” White said.

Griffin said the new facility promotes local, healthy food and provides more ways to make it and get it.

“We’re trying to build a relationship, kind of a food culture that centers around the food market and local residents,” Griffin said.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.

To read the full article and view the video on WMBF News, click here.

Dozens Attend Diversity, Inclusion Summit in Florence

by WMBF News Staff

More than 70 people attended the Building Bridges Diversity Summit in Florence on Monday.

The event took place on the campus of MUSC Health Florence Medical Center.

Developing a diverse and inclusive workplace and helping women succeed were among the topics discussed during the summit.

Florence Chamber of Commerce member Les Echols said these discussions aren’t just good for employees but also good for business.

“A lot of research has shown that diversity and inclusion is good for business. It’s one of those things that will help us move forward. The more diverse, the more innovative you are and that’s the area we need to work on now,” Echols said.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Atiya Stokes-Brown, who is the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Coastal Carolina University.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.

To view the full article and watch the video on WMBF News, click here.