Written by staff at Business View Magazine

Business View Magazine interviews Drew Griffin, City Manager of Florence, SC, as part of our focus on redevelopment initiatives of American cities.

In March 2017, the City of Florence, South Carolina and Florence Downtown Development, a non-profit organization devoted to revitalizing and restoring civic pride in Downtown Florence, released a new community brand: “Full Life. Full Forward.” This new tagline was chosen to reflect a city that is full of energy and potential; a progressive and diverse community that is attracting new industry and residents, and providing more opportunities and amenities for its population of 40,000.

Situated in the historical “Pee Dee” region of northeast South Carolina, early settlers in the area practiced subsistence farming and produced indigo, cotton, naval stores, and timber, which were shipped down the Great Pee Dee River to the port at Georgetown and exported. In the mid-19thcentury, the town became the junction of three major railroad systems: the Wilmington and Manchester, the Northeastern, and the Cheraw and Darlington. Gen. W. W. Harllee, the president of the W&M, built his home at the junction, and named the community “Florence” after his daughter.

Florence, South Carolina Evans Streetscape.
Evans Streetscape

During the Civil War, the town was an important supply and railroad repair center for the Confederacy. After the war, Florence, South Carolina grew and prospered, using the railroad to supply its cotton, timber, and by the turn of the century, tobacco. The City of Florence was chartered in 1871 and incorporated in 1890. During the 20th century, industry grew, especially after World War II, when Florence became increasingly known for textiles, pharmaceuticals, paper, and manufacturing, in addition to agricultural products.

Although the importance of the railroads began to decline in the last half of the 20th century, the role of transportation remains a prominent thread in the tapestry of the city’s development. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, Florence’s midpoint location between New York and Miami made the city a popular stop for motorists using US Highway 301. Today, situated at the intersection of interstate highways I-95 and I-20, the city continues to attract travelers from the nation’s busy eastern corridor. Its strategic location, coupled with the recently expanded air service offered by its regional airport, allows Florence, South Carolina to maintain its role as a transportation hub for the southeast.

Florence also has a diverse industrial base, with a number of Fortune 500 companies, such as General Electric, Thermo Fischer Scientific, Otis Elevator, and Honda Motors. And because of its location at the juncture of two Interstates, the city and its outskirts host approximately 5,000 hotel rooms – the highest number of any location on I-95. It also has two large hospitals – the Carolina Hospital system and the McCloud Healthcare system, which, together employ about 8,500 people; and a broad mix of retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues.

Today, as its new tagline suggests, Florence, South Carolina is moving forward aggressively with many projects and initiatives. City Manager, Drew Griffin reports on several of them, beginning with its recent downtown revitalization efforts. “The downtown core started a very intensive redevelopment phase approximately five to seven years ago, which has resulted in approximately $300 million of public and private investment,” he begins. “The public side of that investment includes a performing arts center, a museum, our first parking deck, significant green space, and public spaces within the area defined as our historic downtown, which includes small pocket parks with formal plazas and place-making amenities where people can gather and socialize.”

“We are getting ready to open our second hotel project, downtown,” he continues. “The first, Hotel Florence, was completed about four years ago. It’s a boutique hotel built into an old, historic, four-story building with approximately 70 rooms. It was a $7 million renovation, privately funded, that used tax credits and federal and state incentives. The second hotel is opening in February. It is a Hyatt Place Hotel with 100-plus rooms. The city was able to assemble the land for that private investment project at approximately $15 million.”

Florence, South Carolina Jeffries Creek Florence Trail System.
Jeffries Creek Florence Trail System

Over the past few years, the city has also seen the opening of its first downtown brewery and about seven new restaurants. So, local brews, food, and entertainment are all very central to Florence, South Carolina’s downtown redevelopment. Taking advantage of all these new venues the city hosts, through the Downtown Development Corporation, up to 22 special events a year. “Those typically draw between two and five thousand participants,” Griffin reports. “Those events are all very popular and very diverse, with a very festive environment. So, downtown is doing extremely well. It has won two economic development municipal achievement awards, which, in our state, we call the Joe Riley Economic Development Awards, hosted through the State Municipal Association. We have won two of those, and we have won some type of municipal achievement award the last six years in a row.”

As the downtown continues to thrive, the city is also working to revitalize several adjacent neighborhoods. “You certainly want to look at your neighborhoods that have been moving in the wrong direction and have not been seeing the development that some of your other subdivisions have,” says Griffin. “So, about three-and-a-half years ago, the city began an incentive-based, public/private residential project in three core neighborhoods. That redevelopment effort is resulting in new housing and market stability where there was none.” Griffin adds that each of those neighborhood projects contain significant public improvements, including new streets with new curbs and wide sidewalks, landscaping, and bike lanes; new or upgraded elementary schools; and significant redevelopment of neighborhood parks.

“The city has just closed on a $15 million park improvement fund,” Griffin notes. “About half of those funds will go into neighborhood park improvements, investing in buildings and existing infrastructure, putting in roofs, redesigning bathrooms, fixing basketball courts, doing fencing, and building playgrounds and two community centers that, historically, have not had a neighborhood center. About $7 million of that money is going into a professional level track and a new baseball complex that will host our little league and travelling baseball players. Associated with those projects is about $2 million that we’re investing in street and trail connectivity, which will go to tying these parks together with pedestrian access points and some bike paths to carry our trail system an additional two miles within the city’s urban area.”

Florence has also spent funds on its recreation programs. “We recently completed three recreation projects with assistance from the Bruce Lee Foundation and a couple of other partners,” he adds. “We have built a $7 million tennis complex; we recently completed a $4.5 million, three-court gymnasium with administrative offices; and we have recently finished a $9 million soccer complex. We intend to connect our existing trail system to our soccer complex in a 100-acre park. So, once you get to the soccer complex, you’ll have a three-mile, certified trail that people can access for running events, or just simply to enjoy. It will be an extension of our 10-mile trail system that is working towards the downtown.”

Another project on the drawing boards is a downtown transportation hub to be created in conjunction with the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority. “It will bring people from all over the city, and outside the city, to a location in the middle of our urban area, where they can move to a free shuttle that can take them to medical facilities, city, county, and state offices, and a new farmers market that is currently under construction,” Griffin states. “That farmers market is adjacent to a potential, unnamed public/private redevelopment effort that could be anywhere from $50-$70 million. The public portion is the assemblage of land, providing ingress, egress, and some parking; the private side of that would be a very significant commercial mixed-use development that could involve residential, a hotel, owner-occupied housing, and/or a restaurant/office complex.”

Florence, South Carolina rooftop bar.
Dispensary Rooftop Bar

According to City Planner, Jerry Dudley, much of Florence’s revitalization efforts are aimed at attracting new residents and holding on to the ones it has. “We know that quality of life and livability is what attracts folks to the area and keeps our young folks in the area,” he avers. “We do have a bit of trouble holding onto young folks in town. So a lot of the improvements, especially in a vibrant downtown, are put in place to help keep those individuals here or make them want to come back after college.”

“So there’s lots to do,” Griffin echoes. “In the last seven years, we’ve really reached to make our community more welcoming and we are really pushing the concept that we want a child to grow up in Florence, go to college in the region, and be able to come back here and raise a family and enjoy the high level of amenities that we have as they age. We are a growing and very diverse community. And we are being recognized across the U.S., and, particularly, regionally, as a community moving in the right direction. And that goes to our logo: ‘Full Life. Full Forward.’”

To read the full article on Business View Magazine’s website, click here.

Florence Chamber’s Emerging Leaders Program Coming this Summer

From Staff Reports

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce is accepting applications for its 2019 Emerging Leaders Summer Business Institute.

This five-session summer program runs from June until August and is designed to identify, develop and empower local “Emerging Leaders.” Specifically, this program, sponsored by Wells Fargo, can be helpful for minority professionals, small business owners and innovative professionals poised to move on to the next level of community and business leadership.

The chamber is seeking individuals or company representatives who want to be more actively engaged in the Greater Florence community through unique leadership practices and experiences. Attendees will gain valuable opportunities to expand their sphere of influence and professional contacts.

Program strategies include visiting with community leaders and businesses, professional and personal leadership development and civic engagement, extensive networking with a diverse group of peers and discovering strengths and learning how to apply them as a business or community leader.

The program dates are June 18 (orientation and reception at the Florence chamber offices); June 19 (retreat at the Florence chamber offices); July 17 (technology, innovation and industry at various locations); July 24 (leadership development at various locations); and Aug. 7 (government/civic engagement at various locations.

Most sessions will last from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

The cost includes food and program materials. While many candidates are sponsored by their employer, a limited number of partial scholarships are available.

The nonprofit rate is $225. The small/minority business rate is $250. The corporate rate is $500.

For more information, contact Les Echols, the director of community and minority enterprise with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, at 843-665-0515.

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

Palmetto Brick Celebrates 100 Years of Operation

by Ardie Arvidson

Palmetto Brick is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Family-owned and -operated since 1919, the brick manufacturing plant is in Wallace with retail showrooms in Florence, Myrtle Beach and locations near Charlotte, North Carolina.

To celebrate its anniversary, the company is hosting events in all of its retail stores. On Thursday, in conjunction with a ribbon cutting for its membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, Palmetto Brick served lunch at its Florence retail store on Melon Street.

The company was founded by J. L. Anderson in 1919.

Andy Rogers, vice president and a fourth-generation family member to work in the company, said the company was started in Wallace on the Pee Dee River by his great-grandfather.

Rogers said the company is built on “good fortune, good employees and loyal customers.”

Without any one of them, he said, it wouldn’t have lasted 100 years.

“My father or I have been buying brick from Palmetto Brick for over 70 years,” said Bill Segars of Segars Construction Company in Hartsville, who stopped by to congratulate Palmetto Brick on its success and 100 years in business. “From the family ownership, though management, sales and service to the truck drivers; Palmetto Brick has always been a first rate vendor with a quality product. They have a product that we need. We order it, they send it, we pay for it. This type arrangement makes our job in the field much easier.”

“The company continues to learn and grow,” said John Sanderson, Carolina Sales manager. “It takes the whole ball of wax to make a company grow.”

“We have supplied brick for a lot of offices and homes in the area,” Rogers said. “We sell brick in 31 states and Canada.”

The company has 107 employees with six in the Florence office.

The company offers 40 different varieties of brick.

“The most popular right now are the lighter shades of brick,” Rogers said.

For commercial buildings, he said, their best seller is a “true white” brick. He said very few companies can make it.

“We are a green product,” he said. “We take clay out of the ground and burn it with natural gas.”

He said one-third of the company’s electricity comes from a solar farm.

“It is awesome,” he said. “We have been operating with it for close to a year.”

According to the company’s website “Palmetto Brick is the largest family-owned brick maker in South Carolina with a capacity to produce more than 150 million bricks a year. It remains one of only a handful of American-owned and -operated brick manufacturers in the U.S.”

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

Administrative Professionals Celebrated at Luncheon

by Matthew Robertson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, The Manor and SPC Federal Credit Union celebrated Administrative Professionals Day on Wednesday with their annual luncheon at the Florence Center.

Several hundred people turned out for the event, which filled one of the Florence Center’s ballrooms.

In addition to vendors handing out promotional items to participants and the meal itself, the event featured several rounds of door prizes, which varied from gift boxes to tickets to the Carolina Havoc.

The speaker for Wednesday’s event was David Kahn, the founder of Counseling Center of Florence.

Kahn spoke on the subject of effective communication as well as effective listening, which he said was the key to all communications. Listening to respond, he said, is different from listening to comprehend and understand.

Kahn also spoke about distractions, such as cell phones, and how they get in the way of communicating and understanding.

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

Southern Safety Looks to Grow in Florence

by Ardie Arvidson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ambassadors joined Southern Safety Group LLC on Tuesday to celebrate its new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting at the chamber office.

Jody Lynch, CEO, her daughter, Grace Lynch, and Ellen Mitchell, Director of Development, were on hand to cut the ribbon.

Lynch said she is excited to be a part of the chamber and to form a great partnership with its members.

“Florence is very important to me,” she said. “It is where I prefer for us to grow.”

The company provides business and individual security, logistics, risk management and private investigations.

Other key members of her team are Jeff Chamblee, training; Alison Lynch, logistics; and Andrew Patterson, director of finance.

The business is based in Florence County. Lynch said she started the security part of her business in September but has been in private investigation since 2013.

She moved here in 1992 and has worked in law enforcement with both the Florence Police Department and the Florence County Sheriff’s Office.

Lynch said her team has a combined 120 years in law enforcement and military service.

Lynch is a veteran.

“We give veterans first priority,” she said.

Lynch said she was introduced to the security world during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

“I was there for eight weeks,” she said.

She also worked in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina during Hurricane Florence, responsible for more than 200 workers here to help out with the recovery.

Lynch was recently in South Korea scouting for contracts and is now looking at a contract in Alaska.

She has worked for MTV and reality television shows doing logistics.

“We do security assessments for businesses,” she said. “We utilize drones for our overall assessments.”

Lynch said she went from law enforcement, a male-dominated industry, to another industry that is predominately male dominated.

“I feel like we will be a leader in our field,” she said.

For more information, contact Lynch at wwe.southernsafetygroup.com.

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

Feed Your Need for Art and Culture in Florence

Florence might not be a metropolis, but when it comes to arts and cultural events, you’ll feel like you’re in a big city. A vibrant arts scene and cutting-edge facilities not only provide outlets for the area’s many artists, but impressive venues for lovers of theater, music and visual arts.

Florence Center:
Conveniently located near the I-20/I-95 interchange, the Florence Center serves as a major event venue for concerts, theatrical productions, conferences and more. With 10,000 seats, the arena has been the site of sporting matches, circuses, rodeos, WWE events, gun and knife shows and family-pleasing extravaganzas like Disney on Ice and Sesame Street Live.

Florence County Museum:
A “must” on any art lover’s visit to the Pee Dee, the Florence County Museum is home to works by William H. Johnson, a Florence native and acclaimed 20th-century African-American artist. You can also see the Wright Collection of Southern Art, featuring works by Alice Huger Smith, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Mary Whyte and more. Rotating exhibits and a dynamic collection of artifacts dating back to the Cretaceous Period make this a museum you’ll want to linger in. The handsome building opened in 2014 in Florence’s downtown, so dining, coffee shops and boutiques are just a few steps away.

Waters Gallery:
This downtown community art gallery is overseen by the Florence County Museum and is home to art openings and a rotating lineup of art shows and related events.

Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center:
Another downtown jewel, this state-of-the-art venue features an 849-seat main theater, a 100-seat black box theater, an amphitheater, practice rooms and labs for students studying music at FMU. Past performances include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Graham Nash, the Second City comedy troupe, Indigo Girls, violinist Francisco Cabán and other big names. It is home to the Florence Symphony Orchestra, which performs several shows throughout the season, the Masterworks Choir and South Carolina Dance Theatre. Chamber music performances are another local favorite.

Florence Little Theatre:
This local institution has been entertaining Florence since 1923 when it was known as the Community Players. Since then, it has had a few homes, but none to compare with the 394-seat theater that opened in downtown in 2008. This playhouse has a reputation for excellence and holds the distinction of being the first community theater group in South Carolina to perform “Les Miserables.” The talent you’ll see on stage is on par with or surpassing anything you will see at other community theaters across the state.

Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library:
Operating under the umbrella of the Florence County Library System, this stately, 83,000-square-foot downtown facility features art exhibits, demos, literary events, musical performances and more throughout the year.

Francis Marion University:
This institution might operate the impressive FMU Performing Arts Center, but its campus is also central to many local arts and entertainment experiences. Immerse yourself in rotating art exhibits—ceramics, textiles, sculpture, paintings and more—at the University’s Kassab Gallery. The Hyman Fine Arts building is the place to enjoy student theatrical productions and other artistic offerings. The campus is also home to the Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival, welcoming Pulitzer Prize and other award-winning literati to campus for a two-day celebration each November.

Lynda English Studio Gallery:
Local artists Lynda English and Jackie Wukela not only exhibit local works of art in various mediums in this gallery but offer art classes to the community, too. Stop by and browse or sign up for a class. No experience required!

The Moon is Coming to Florence

The moon will arrive in Florence, SC for installation Thursday, April 25 and be on display over Dargan St. near Hyatt Place and the Chamber of Commerce until Monday, April 28. It will then move to the Florence Center and be open to the public and tour groups until Monday, May 6. It is made possible by the Willcox, Buyck & Williams Foundation, Raines Hospitality Group, and South Carolina Federal Credit Union.

Community and school groups are invited to visit the moon any time on Dargan St. and from 9am to 5pm at the Florence Center.

Leadership Florence Oyster Roast

WOW. More than 250 people showed up for the Leadership Florence oyster roast to benefit three charities last night at Florence Center.

Proceeds from “Poppin Shells for A Good Cause,” raised from sponsorships, ticket sales and a silent auction, will go toward three area charities: Harvest Hope Food Bank, Empowered to Heal and Mercy Medicine.

We want to thank True Light Photography for all the great photos as well as all of our sponsors and all of those who donated their time and/or items.

Click here for more pictures.

Hyatt Celebrates its Downtown Florence Grand Opening with Ribbon Cutting

by Ardie Arvidson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce welcomed Hyatt Place Downtown Florence as a member of the chamber with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday afternoon that included the grand opening of the newest hotel in downtown Florence. The event included music by Prettier than Matt.

The five-story, 103-room Hyatt Place was the 333rd Hyatt Place to open, said Ron Glancy, senior vice president of operations for Rains Hospitality. It opened its doors in February.

Owned by East Evans Hospitality LLC, the hotel is managed by Raines Hospitality, which manages several hotels in South Carolina and Florence. The property was developed by Springbridge Development. The hotel represents approximately $20 million investment in downtown.

Glancy said this is Raines’ third hotel to open since July.

“We are opening a lot of new hotels,” he said. “It is our first partnership with Hyatt Place.”

He said Hyatt Place was great to work with and it gave Raines Hospitality a tremendous amount of support.

“This is not our last Hyatt Place,” he said. The company will be opening one in mid-May in Mt. Pleasant and looks to have others.

Glancy said the hotel is situated on what was once part of Evans Street. He said the street was straightened for the hotel.

He said the view view of downtown from the upper hotel rooms is amazing.

“It is an urban oasis in downtown Florence,” Glancy said. “It is a fun and exciting addition to the community. We are so happy with the finished product.”

The hotel offers a casual atmosphere with amenities such as free Wi-Fi and 24-hour food offerings in the Gallery Kitchen. Guests can also access the Gallery menu 24/7. A coffee bar is available day and night, and the cocktail bar is open late.

The hotel offers meeting spaces for guests and the community, a 24-hour gym, and an outdoor pool.

Guests staying at Hyatt Place Florence Downtown can enjoy the close proximity of the hotel to the arts and entertainment district downtown, Guests can also enjoy shopping within walking distance of the hotel.

Faith Rogers is general manager.

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

Leadership Florence Class Visits Law Enforcement Agencies

by Ardie Arvidson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Leadership Florence 2018-19 class, one of the largest ever with 37 participants, wrapped up its training on Tuesday with Local Government and Law Enforcement Day. The group will graduate in May.

Class members started their day with city and county government and the Florence Police Department before having lunch at the sheriff’s office.

Leadership Florence is a nine-month program designed to cultivate leadership for the Florence area. The class has met every second Tuesday since August.

Participants have attended various events during the program that will enhance their involvement in the local community and develop valuable leadership skills.

Les Echols, the chamber’s director of community and minority enterprise, was responsible for managing the leadership program.

“I am not from Florence,” said Ania Giannace-Dixon, a member of the class representing the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority. “It has been very beneficial to hear what is going on in the community and to learn about its nonprofits. It was a great networking opportunity. I will miss it.”

On Tuesday, Sheriff Kenney Boone spoke to Leadership Florence. He said the annual visit to the sheriff’s office gives the department the opportunity to showcase what it can do and the different divisions within the department.

He praised his team and said he will continue to fight for salary increases for his deputies.

“They put their lives on the line every day,” he said.

He said someone has to stand up against evil.

“I have a great staff that represents me daily,” he said.

The Leadership Florence class learned about drug interdiction from Lt. Curt Summerford and Sgt. Austin Spell, forensics from Lt. Kathleen Streett, and human trafficking from Glenda Skipper, founder of One Child at a Time.

They group watched several videos and saw demonstrations before a question-and-answer session.

Others on the program were the sheriff’s office’s K-9 unit, a SWAT demonstration and aviation with Capt. Scott Brown; tour of dispatch with Dusty Owens; and Capt. Joe Nell, highway patrol.

Before lunch the class visited the County Complex and heard from Mayor Stephen Wukela, City Manager Drew Griffin; Florence County Council Chairman Waymon Mumford; and Florence County Finance Director Kevin Yokim.

Their scheduled included a visit with Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler, Lt. George Mack, patrol operations; Captain David McClure, support services; Commander Anson Shells, community services; accreditation manager Angela Watson; Lt. Joe Nida, narcotics unit and K-9 demonstration; Hank Clover, chief of training, fire department.

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