Carolina Havoc and Florence Chamber Celebrate Season Opener with a Ribbon Cutting

Carolina Havoc celebrated their season opener this past Friday, March 15, with a ribbon cutting to signify their membership with the Florence Chamber.

Saunders Receives Order of the Palmetto at Florence Luncheon

Staff Reports

F.R. “Rick” Saunders was awarded The Order of the Palmetto — the highest civilian honor awarded to residents of South Carolina for extraordinary lifetime achievement, and for national or statewide service — by S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman during a luncheon Friday at Florence Country Club.

“I am honored to receive this recognition,” said Saunders, CEO and president of First Reliance Bank in Florence. “Early in my career I made the commitment to be involved in the communities we do business in and try to truly make a difference. I was fortunate to expand that to the state level as the bank grew and more opportunities arose.”

Saunders was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford to the South Carolina State Board of Financial Institutions, where he served a 12-year term. On the board, he led efforts to restructure the responsibilities of the State Banking Commission and worked closely with legislature to accomplish this. He also served on the State Chamber of Commerce Board and the South Carolina Bankers Association Board, both of which are state-focused organizations. Saunders has also served on more than a dozen other local and regional boards since the formation of First Reliance Bank in 1999.

For his leadership and work, Saunders has been recognized for other past awards such as an Entrepreneur Award for his contributions to the prosperity of the Pee Dee Region by the Florence Darlington Technical College, Business Man of the Year by the Florence Chamber of Commerce, The Beta Gamma Sigma honoree from Francis Marion University School of Business and The Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year national award for the financial industry.

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

Carolina Bank Holds Ribbon Cutting for New Headquarters in Florence

by Ardie Arvidson

Carolina Bank held the grand opening and ribbon cutting on Thursday for its new headquarters in downtown Florence. It was nearly two years in the making. The bank is at 185. W. Evans St.

A soft opening was held in December 2018 for the 19,200-square-foot building, which cost an estimated $4.5 million. It hosts the bank’s 15th branch location in addition to its new headquarters.

“We are very pleased with the results,” said Vera Herbert, vice president and a fourth-generation member of the Beasley family, founders of the family-owned bank more than 80 years ago in Lamar. “It was a lot of work to get to this point.”

Renovations were started in June 2017.

Adding a third story to the two-story building is what took so long in the renovation process, Herbert said.

Herbert said that in the early 1900s the building was three stories. She said it is believed that the third floor burned and was never replaced.

When Carolina Bank purchased the building it was only two stories and housed the Art Trail gallery.

“In order to house our operations, we needed a third floor,” Herbert said.

The bank tried to go back as much as possible to the original look from the turn of the century.

The first floor houses the new branch operations and the wealth management services. The second floor includes operations such as loan and deposit operations, as well as information technology. Located on the third floor are the executive offices and the audit department.

“A lot of our coming here had to do with the growth in Florence,” Herbert said.

She said the bank wanted to be a part of that growth and to be more accessible to many of its customers.

The bank has helped finance projects downtown and looks forward to being a part of the growth in the downtown district.

Bank President Rick Beasley said at the ribbon cutting that his grandfather had a vision in 1936 and opened a small bank in Lamar. His son opened one in Darlington and from there it has grown. And now they have moved their headquarters to Florence.

“This is just the start of what is going to happen in Florence,” Mayor Pro Tem Frank J. “Buddy” Brand II told Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ambassadors, business leaders, bank personnel and friends gathered in front of the bank for the ribbon cutting. “Florence is on the move.”

He welcomed Carolina Bank to Florence’s downtown as part of the city’s growth.

For the full article on SC Now, click here.

Carolina Bank Celebrates Grand Opening of New Location and Headquarters

by Nia Watson

Carolina Bank and Florence city officials celebrated the grand opening Thursday afternoon of the new $4.5 million branch and headquarters in downtown Florence.

“Our family had a vision to move to Florence and here we are today enjoying the moment,” said Carolina Bank CEO Rick Beasley.

Beasley said the business started with his grandfather opening up a small bank in Lamar in 1936. Currently, the company has 12 locations in six counties with the latest and biggest branch in the hub of the Pee Dee.

“City of Florence has been great. They’ve opened their arms for us.” Beasley said.

Brian Falcone, the bank’s senior loan officer, said after seeing the growth in Florence, they decided to relocate from Darlington and renovate the three-story building into their new home.

However, their presence in Florence isn’t new. There’s also a branch on West Palmetto Street. Falcone said 70 percent of Carolina Bank’s loans are in the city.

“The Waters building, Kress corner, so we’ve been kind of instrumental in doing a lot of lending in this area so we kind of felt like it was time for us to move to downtown,” Falcone said.

Mayor Pro Tem Frank Brand said the steady development is a result of government and the private sector working together.

While the bank is the latest business to open up, another one is in the works on North Dargan Street.

The Lost Cajun Seafood and Gumbo restaurant with a rooftop bar received approval from the city’s design review board Wednesday afternoon. The business still has to submit plans to the building department.

Brand said the goal of is to get young people to the community.

“The young people that is what is driving this whole thing to get young people that have gone off to universities and work in Charlotte or Charleston. We want then back here, we want them in Florence,” Brand said. “If we can do it in Florence it’s just the more opportunity for them to come back and Florence is not an expensive place to live compared to these other cities.”

At the rate of this progress, Brand said it won’t be long until the vision becomes reality.

“The last five years it’s going to be multiplied over again as Florence continues to march forward, getting better, bigger and just more alternatives for people to do things in our community,” Brand said.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.

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

Youth Apprenticeship Accelerator Meeting

The South Carolina Department of Commerce and The Greater Florence Chamber partnered to host a Youth Apprenticeship Accelerator Meeting on Thursday, March 14. The program was held at the SiMT facility in Florence, with more than 50 people from area business and education centers in attendance. The meeting was centered a review of Apprenticeship Carolina and how to get involved in the process. It was followed by a business/industry leader discussion on active roles with the apprenticeship programs. Fearn Gupton, Apprenticeship Consultant with Apprenticeship Carolina, lead the program with support from Cheryl Lewis, Regional Workforce Advisor of SC Department of Commerce and Michael Miller, President of the Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Panel discussions were held with Brain DuBose, CATE School Counselor at the Florence Career Center, Tracy Kuhn, Operations Director at Gregory Electric, Keith Traver, Production Manager at Sonoco and Parker Kirven, current apprentice at Sonoco Adhesives.

Board Approves Plan for Downtown Restaurant, Bar in Florence

by Matthew Christian

The Lost Cajun found approval from the city of Florence’s design review board Wednesday afternoon.

Owner Terrance Thomas applied for a certificate of appropriateness from the design review board to turn the building at 135 N. Dargan St. into a seafood restaurant called The Lost Cajun Seafood and Gumbo, a rooftop bar to be called Soho Vibes Tables and Taps, and two studio apartments.

Wednesday afternoon, the design review board voted unanimously in favor of granting the certificate. Board member Scott Collins did not participate in the discussion or vote as he is the architect tasked with designing the project.

Board members Nathaniel Mitchell, Tom Kolias, and Chairman C. Pierce Campbell expressed their appreciation that Thomas would take it upon himself to build something in the currently vacant building.

The building was constructed in 1920 and has 2,400 square feet. It is located between Jazz on Dargan and Local Motive Brewing. According to design review board information packet, the owner of the property is ASK Investments and Holdings LLC. ASK was incorporated on March 29, 2018, according to the website of South Carolina Secretary of State Mark Hammond.

The design review board works within the city’s downtown redevelopment district and to determine the need to preserve the historic character of the city’s downtown. There are currently eight members of 10 available spots, according to the city’s website.

In other action Wednesday, the design review board:

>> Approved a certificate of appropriateness to allow painting and updating of the building at 383 W. Cheves St.

>> Approved a certificate of appropriateness to allow the installation of rooftop solar panels at a home at 661 S. McQueen St.

>> Approved a certificate of appropriateness to allow the demolition of homes at 709 and 713 S. Dargan St.

>> Approved a certificate of appropriateness for two pedestrian eye-level signs at the new Hyatt Place Hotel.

>> Deferred action on a proposed outdoor dining area at El Agave on West Evans Street.

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

Advanced Dental Center of Florence Donates $3,500 in Scholarships to FDTC Dental Program

Staff Reports

The Advanced Dental Center of Florence recently donated $3,500 in scholarships to the Florence-Darlington Technical College Educational Foundation for students in the Dental Hygiene and Expanded-Duty Dental Assisting programs.

Both programs at FDTC see a 100 percent job placement rate following graduation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 20.7 percent increase in employment of dental hygienists and a 20.5 percent increase in employment of dental assistants by 2026. Also according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.

“The latest technology combined with high quality personnel and effective training programs allow Advanced Dental Center to deliver on our motto of ‘Keep Your Smile For Life,’” said

Dr. Joseph Griffin, who owns and operates the Advanced Dental Center of Florence.

Recipients of the scholarship funding included Natalie Bruick, Katie Miller, Lauris Montgomery, Ashleigh Van Norman, Andrea Smith, Chelsea Tedder and Odre’Aunna Watkins.

FDTC’s Dental Hygiene program is an associate’s program that is comprised of didactic, clinical and laboratory courses. The FDTC Health Sciences Campus located in downtown Florence has a fully functional clinic that is open to the public. Students of the program are able to get real life, hands-on training before they graduate from the college.

“The commitment that Dr. Griffin has provided with these scholarships is the key that unlocks the future for these deserving dental hygiene students,” said Caroline Bunce, the director of the Dental Hygiene program. “His financial support to the FDTC student is building their confidence and removing obstacles that stand in the way of success.”

The Expanded-Duty Dental Assisting program is a diploma program. In additional to clinical experience at FDTC, students of the program also visit off-site locations to gain hands-on training.

Griffin serves on the board of the Florence-Darlington County Commission for Technical Education and is a regular contributor to the FDTC Educational Foundation.

In 2009, Griffin was a recipient of the South Carolina Palmetto Patriot Award that is awarded by the lieutenant governor’s office for dedication to community service. He is also a member of the American Dental Association, South Carolina Dental Association, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the Pee Dee Study Club.

“We greatly appreciate all community support for the dental programs at Florence-Darlington Technical College,” Dr. Jamie Driggers said. “Without contributions like that of Dr. Griffin and so many others, our students would have to bear a greater financial burden.”

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

Leadership Florence’s Education Day

Leadership Florence had Education Day for its March program on Tuesday, March 12. The group visited Florence-Darlington Technical College and the Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences.

The class also got to hear from and visit many of the many educational institutions in our community. The day included presentations from: Poynor Adult and Community Education, Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School, All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, Florence 1 Schools, The School Foundation, Coker College and ScienceSouth.

An additional thank you goes to Florence-Darlington Technical College for providing breakfast, and several schools, including Wilson High School and Savannah Grove Elementary in Florence, for providing lunch.

Jr. Leadership’s State Government Day

Our Junior Leadership students spent the day at the S.C. State House for 4-H Legislative Day! We appreciate both the Governor and Lt. Governor who took the time to meet with our students Tuesday (March 12) morning!

Don’t forget tomorrow (Friday, March 15) is the deadline for current high school freshman and sophomores who live in or attend school in Florence County to apply for the 2019-2020 Junior Leadership Florence County Class. Public, private and homeschooled students who will be classified as a high school sophomore or junior next school year are eligible. For more information or to download an application, please visit

Junior Leadership Florence County (JLFC) is an eight-month program in which area high school sophomores and juniors are empowered to become trustees of the Florence County community. Throughout the eight months of the program students will learn a variety of valuable leadership skills including time management, community issue awareness, and business ethics. The program also provides training in the area of personal development, skills training, volunteering opportunities and team building. Another benefit of the program is the opportunity to gain new contacts through networking and relationship building.

The program is presented by the Florence County Extension Service, The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and Francis Marion University.

The Continuum in Lake City Will Change the Face of Local Education

by Shamira McCray

Lake City philanthropist and entrepreneur Darla Moore said The Continuum is “a vision for what the future of education could, and probably should, look like.”

The new educational initiative in Lake City is a partnership between the Darla Moore Foundation, Francis Marion University and Florence-Darlington Technical College.

“There are many issues facing South Carolina today,” Moore said in a news release. “None is more pressing than creating an educational system that more effectively meets the needs of the businesses and industries of this state, and the citizens who make them go.”

Moore said major employers such as Volvo and Boeing have informed her that they need a better-trained and educated workforce to sustain their growth in South Carolina.

“That’s a vital need we must meet,” Moore said. “I believe The Continuum will fast become a model for how that can be done.”

The Continuum will be housed in a new $25 million, 46,000-square-foot facility in downtown Lake City and will be a regional center for education and workforce development. There will be a focus at The Continuum on “advancing the knowledge and mastery of innovative and technical skills,” according to the release sent Thursday.

Courses that lead to two- and four-year degrees will be offered at The Continuum, plus a business incubator, dual enrollment courses for high school students, workforce development certificate programs and other science and innovation programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students from Pee Dee-area public school districts and private schools are expected to enroll for classes that will begin in August. Courses for both dual enrollment and traditional students will include English, math, history, biology, chemistry, art, music, business, computer science, education, pre-engineering and pre-nursing, the release said. Initial workforce development courses will include training in HVAC, welding, health sciences, mechatronic and advanced manufacturing technology.

According to the release, The Continuum will include seven high-tech classrooms, three computer labs, three distance learning (online) classrooms, large prep rooms for biology and chemistry labs, four workforce development classrooms/labs, a health science space and a large lecture hall that can be converted into an event space.

“The business incubator will have a separate public entrance and space for up to five nascent businesses,” the release said. “The incubator will be run by FMU through its Kelly Center for Enterprise and Innovation, which operates the business development center for the city of Florence in downtown Florence.”

Francis Marion University President Fred Carter said what Moore has brought together is extraordinary in its breadth and vision.

“There is no single path to becoming an educated person or to engaging in a meaningful vocation,” Carter said through the release. “Through its unique structure and flexibility, The Continuum opens new doors for students across the spectrum. FMU is eager to begin this bold, new adventure.”

Florence-Darlington Technical College Interim President Ed Bethea said The Continuum will be huge for Lake City and the surrounding area.

“Lower Florence County will have easy access to educational opportunities that have never before been available in that part of Florence County,” Bethea said.

Former J. Paul Truluck Creative Arts and Science Magnet School Principal Jeanette Altman will be the director of The Continuum. Anna Todd, who most recently served as assistant director of admissions at Francis Marion University. will direct the university’s services at The Continuum while managing other outreach programs. Briana Dennis, the Kelly Center director at Francis Marion, will manage the business incubator.

The Continuum will announce other personnel later.

A four-member board will govern The Continuum, the release said. The board includes Moore, who will serve as the chairwoman, Darla More Foundation CEO and President Dr. Marion Fowler, Bethea and Carter.

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