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.

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Notch 8 Catering Company Holds Ribbon Cutting at Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Notch 8 catering company held a ribbon cutting at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce office on Tuesday with chamber ambassadors participating.

An off-site catering company, Notch 8 does everything from cookouts to caviar, said one of its chefs.

Shaina E. Bazen, marketing and sales director for Notch 8, said the business can do everything from a pig pickin’ to an oyster roast and every event from a wedding to a corporate lunch.

Notch 8 is a budget-minded catering company with a menu to match, whether it is muffins by the dozen, a full-service dinner with linens and servers or a picnic.

“We provide quick, easy and price-efficient menus,” Bazen said.

Bazen said the menus are flexible. She said Notch 8 can drop off boxed lunches, come back and clean up later or stay the entire time.

“I have really enjoyed the process of creating the menu, watching it start from something very small and blossoming into something amazing,” she said.

“One thing that excites us is how different and creative our menu is,’ she said. “We have taken the norm and tried to put a new, modern spin on it.”

She said that was also one of the biggest challenges, trying to make a menu that was different and putting a new twist on what was already out there.

Another thing she has enjoyed in the start-up process has been designing the boxes the boxed lunches come in.

Notch 8 is a railroad term for full throttle and many of the boxed lunches have railroad-themed names such as the All Aboard, High Liner, and Full Throttle.

To learn more about Notch 8 Catering, visit notch8catering.com or call 843-507-9919.

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Texas Roadhouse Joins Florence Restaurant Scene

by Ardie Arvidson

A ribbon cutting for the new Texas Roadhouse was held at noon Monday with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and its ambassadors participating along with restaurant staff and management.

The restaurant officially opened for business at 4 p.m. Monday. It is located in front of Magnolia Mall at 2691 David H. McLeod Blvd., next to IHOP.

Texas Roadhouse is famous for its hand-cut steaks, fall-off-the-bone ribs, fresh-baked bread and made-from-scratch sides.

The atmosphere is lively and family-friendly. The wait staff is known to break out in a line dance without any notice. It makes a special deal of birthdays, too.

Florence’s community-themed western décor includes items representing the Darlington Raceway, first responders, local schools, a jukebox and more.

As does every other Texas Roadhouse, the new Florence restaurant has a painting of an American Indian, said Jackie Brown, LSM coach.

The Indian is a trademark, she said, and was started by Wayne Kent Taylor, founder and owner of the first Texas Roadhouse in Clarksville, Indiana.

She said one mural she is especially proud of is the one that features a local first responder taken from a photo.

Brown said the company is built on partnerships with the communities where they reside.

On Friday and Sunday, the restaurant was open by invitation-only to give their staff practice and to raise funds for two local charities, I Play Florence (Friday) and the Care House of the Pee Dee (Sunday). Money was raised through individual donations and drink orders during the evening.

On Friday night, the guests raised $1,988 for I Play Florence. And on Sunday, guests raised $2,802 for Care House of the Pee Dee.

Both organizations were represented at the ribbon cutting on Monday and were presented ceremonial checks. They presented plaques to the Texas Roadhouse in appreciation.

Managing partner Andrew Ivester said he is very excited to be in Florence, and he wants to have a successful partnership with the community.

“We are excited to partner with these amazing organizations and can’t imagine a more meaningful way to celebrate our opening,” he said.

“I am thrilled to be here.”

Larry DePasquale, a market partner with restaurants in South Carolina and parts of Georgian and North Carolina, said he has 11 stores and has been patiently waiting for a long time for the right spot to open up in Florence.

“When this property (on David H. McLeod Blvd.) came available, we grabbed it,” he said. “We love the people here. They have been very welcoming. I have met a lot of people in the short time we have been here.”

He said Texas Roadhouse is involved in the communities where they are located.

He said they have a full-time employee dedicated just to working with the community.

The Texas Roadhouse was started in 1993 in Indiana. The restaurant chain has more than 525 locations in 49 states and seven countries. Its headquarters is in Louisville, Kentucky.

Texas Roadhouse brings nearly 200 new jobs to Florence. The restaurant has a seating capacity of approximately 300.

Texas Roadhouse is only open for dinner during the week. The restaurant is open for lunch on the weekends.

Florence hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 843-536-4507.

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Volunteers Work to Clean Litter in Florence

by Lauren Owens

Residents took to the streets of Florence on Saturday morning to clean litter during the 2019 Great American Clean Up.

In its 19th year, the event, which was sponsored by Keep Florence Beautiful, sent more than 250 people across Florence. People from multiple organization and companies took part in the event.

Volunteers started their morning cleaning at their various work sites and ended their cleanup at Naturally Outdoors for lunch.

The event is a part of an almost three-month long cleanup project that will end May 31.

Michelle Bailey, the chairwoman of Keep Florence Beautiful, said the Great American Clean Up is the largest of multiple projects the group sponsors each year.

“I think it’s the one time of year, you know, the three months we can really show the community that we have a concentrated effort in making sure we are keeping our streets clean so I think that’s why it’s important to be a part of the Great American Clean Up,” Bailey said.

Bailey said over the years Florence’s litter index has decreased, meaning there is less litter on the roads from when Keep Florence Beautiful began hosting the Great American Clean Up. Each year, Bailey and a few volunteers go out and survey one area from each of the four quadrants of Florence to record how much litter is on the street.

“We are seeing a trend year after year of our litter index numbers going down, and that is going down,” Bailey said. “That means that less people are littering and that more people are recycling, which is so great.”

The organization actually won an award in 2018 for an improvement in the Florence litter index.

Among the volunteers, Newspring Church members took part in the 2019 Great American Clean Up. The day coincided with their annual “For SC” day, a day when the church focuses on service in the community.

“Our church does the For SC day and so we go around to different organizations in Florence and we try to spread the word of God and just help out wherever we can our project was the Florence Clean up,” said Kristin Rollins, a Newspring Church member.

Julianna Battenfield, who also served with Newspring, said serving in the community is something her faith compels her to do.

“I wish we could do this every week,” Battenfield said. “This is just great because it helps you take your mind and your eyes off your own problems and helps you focus on giving. It makes you focus on your own problems less.”

For those who are interested in getting involved in the 2019 Great American Clean Up, call Bailey at 843-206-3205 or email her at michelle@keepflorencebeautiful.org. Keep Florence Beautiful will provide a vest, gloves and bags for volunteers. Projects must be completed by May 31.

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BMW Diversity Conference in Greenville

Members of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce rode a bus to attend the BMW Supplier Diversity Conference in Greenville, SC. We were joined by members of the Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach Chambers.

Thank you to Coastal Carolina Women in Philanthropy and Leadership and BMW for your hospitality and travel accomadations.

Dance-off Held in Florence Competition to Benefit School Foundation

by Lauren Owens

Twelve couples jived, salsaed, and swung across the stage during the 2019 Dancing For Our Future Stars fundraiser Thursday evening at the SiMT building on the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus.

More than 800 people attended the sold-out fundraiser to benefit The School Foundation. This is the ninth year The School Foundation has hosted the Dancing For Our Future Stars fundraiser.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that was created to provide resources and support to the administrators, teachers and students of Florence One Schools.

After all 12 couples performed their dances, five couples competed in a dance-off for receiving all 10s for their performances. Celebrity dancers J.B. Mathieu, Nathaniel Lockhart, Luke Wilcox, Robert LeMaster and Tyler Perry all competed in the dance-off.

Luke Wilcox and Alexis McDonald won the “Technical Skills Award” for their jive dance to the song “Trouble” by Travis Tritt.

“I cannot believe it,” McDonald said. “I did not expect it. I went in knowing that I’d won the year prior and it was for charity more than anything, and then they gave me a good partner. If I have a good partner, we can push to be the best that we can be.”

This is the third time Alexis McDonald has won the technical skills award in Dancing For Our Future Stars.

J.B. Mathieu and Erin Haynes won the most entertaining award for their Salsa dance to “Boogie Wonderland,” which was selected by the judges.

Robert LeMaster and Meggie Baker won the social stars award, which is an award for receiving the most online votes. Kevin Miller and Ethan Welsh won the people’s choice award for raising the most money for The School Foundation.

Celebrity dancer Dr. Veeral Oza, who is a gastroenterologist at McLeod Regional Medical Center, had family from Chicago, Ill., come to Florence to see his dance to “Shape of You.”

“It was a good experience,” Oza said. “I think it brought back a lot of memories from our childhood – especially my sister and I.”

Oza and his sister used to dance when they were children, performing a traditional Indian dance called the Garba. Oza danced with professional dancer Dr. Rachel Fenters, who is also a doctor at McLeod Regional Medical Center.

The School Foundation executive director Debbie Hyler said she loves to see the growth of the dancers from the beginning of practices to the final night.

“You don’t ever know how your dancers are going to be,” Hyler said. “It’s amazing to watch the growth. To see how much they’ve really been able to learn. A lot of them are not really dancers … Some of them are way out of the comfort zones so I just admire them so much because I don’t think I could do it.”

For all nine years that Dancing For Our Future Stars has taken place, Burnadene Kelley-Newman, owner and founder of Kelley’s Fine Arts, has allowed the couples to use her facilities and she has assisted with choreography for the competition.

“It’s amazing,” Kelley-Newman said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I do this of course for the children like anybody else who is out here.”

Kelly-Newman said she loves to see the celebrity dancers come out of the competition with a new appreciation and understanding for dance.

To date, The School Foundation has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants Florence One Schools. Past grants have helped provide STEM materials, support the early childhood program and other programs within Florence One.

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

R.N. Beck Center Near Completion in Florence

by Lauren Owens

The R.N. Beck Learning Center is nearing completion, the Florence One Schools board was told Tuesday.

At a called meeting, Michael McGee, vice president of engineering at Industrial Project Innovation, gave the board an update on the project. McGee is working with the district on the Beck construction.

The building is expected to go through Office of School Facilities inspections between April 22 and May 6. McGee said another week of work is expected after the inspection, and then the district will gain access to the building between April 30 and May 14.

This fall, children will attend the R.N. Beck Learning Center. R.N. Beck will be an early childhood development center.

The completion of the building is nearly 12 months late because of storm damage and other construction delays.

This year the construction has had some problems caused by vandalism on Feb. 20, which required the replacement of bathroom tiles and drywall as well as some doors.

According to McGee, it cost the district $1,000 for every day that the building’s completion was delayed.

Currently, the subcontractors are ready to start laying asphalt and they have received approval on the duct work, the ceiling and electrical work, McGee said during his presentation.

Superintendent Richard O’Malley proposed to the Board of Trustees that the district use the “8 percent money” for maintenance and technology. “Eight percent money” is money the district borrows through bonds issued against 8 percent property values in the district.

Board member E.J. McIver said continuing the pay-as-you-go plan, which uses the 8 percent money, was the backup plan for the district to continue building buildings, and it is unfair to those in the Southside Middle, Savannah Grove Elementary and Williams Middle communities.

Board member Bryan Chapman said the pay-as-you-go plan has gotten the district in the situation that it is in currently. He also said the district must take care of the problems that have been ignored.

“Everybody is going to learn a lesson now about what the 8 percent money is,” Chapman said. “We’ve got to fix the leaks, and fix the problems now. We’ve got to fix all the other stuff and not build new buildings.”

Porter Stewart said the district has put maintenance on the back burner for a while and pushed hard in many other areas, but it is time for the district to begin investing in the maintenance of the schools again.

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

Thermo Fisher to Buy Viral Vector Maker Brammer Bio for $1.7B

by Conor Hale

Thermo Fisher Scientific has moved to acquire viral vector developer and manufacturer Brammer Bio for $1.7 billion in cash, giving it a new foothold in the cell and gene therapy market.

Thermo Fisher plans to fold the CDMO—along with its nearly 600 employees, based primarily in Massachusetts and Florida—into its pharmaceutical services business as part of its laboratory products and services segment.

The lab equipment giant estimated that Brammer Bio will deliver $250 million in annual revenue by the end of 2019, and expects its growth to outpace the 25% rate projected for the larger gene and cell therapy market.

“Gene therapy is an area of increasing focus for our customers and is fast-evolving given its potential to treat a range of genetic disorders,” Thermo Fisher President and CEO Marc Casper said in a statement.

“The combination of Brammer Bio’s viral vector capabilities with our GMP production expertise and proprietary bioprocessing and cell culture technologies uniquely positions us to partner with our customers to drive the evolution of this incredibly fast-growing market,” Casper added. The companies expect the complete the transaction by the end of the second quarter of this year.

The FDA is expecting a new surge in cell and gene therapy applications in the coming years, including at least 200 investigational new drug submissions annually, starting in 2020. By 2025, the agency predicts it will be approving 10 to 20 products each year—driven largely by advances in delivery platforms, such as viral vectors.

More recently, Big Biotech’s has been showing renewed interest in acquiring smaller cell and gene therapy developers—with Pfizer acquiring a stake and future purchasing option in the rare disease-focused Vivet Therapeutics, while Biogen agreed to shell out $877 million for Nightstar Therapeutics and its pipeline of gene therapies.

Elsewhere, Thermo Fisher has been making investments in its own biologic and sterile liquid manufacturing operations, slating $150 million to increase capacity at three sites in its CDMO network.

Each site—including one in North Carolina and two in Italy—will get aseptic filling lines and isolator technology, with construction expected to be finished within the next two years.

To read the full story on Fierce Biotech, click here.

FMU Ranked as One of 50 Most Affordable Colleges in America

by Staff Reports

Francis Marion University’s unparalleled combination of quality and affordability has been recognized once again.

FMU is ranked in Study.com’s new list of the 50 Most Affordable Colleges and Universities in the United States. 

The listing uses reliable data from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics. Study.comresearchers say the ranking is based on a combination of “economical tuition costs and availability of financial aid and work-study, as well as it’s career and academic resources for students, graduation rates, and facilities and programs offered.”

Schools from 23 different states are listed in the Study.com rankings. FMU is the only South Carolina college or university listed.

Dr. Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University, said the new ranking was especially meaningful because of its expanded scope.

“This is yet another national affirmation of our long-standing commitment to keep tuition affordable,” Carter said. “We focus on this constantly at FMU. We are also fortunate to have private contributors whose generosity provides needed scholarship and facilities money. It’s a powerful combination for keeping student debt manageable and institutional debt virtually nonexistent.”

Study.com is a 17-year-old company that assists students with college search and strategies and activities designed to support access to higher education. It reaches more than 15 million students per month.

FMU is a public university. A large percentage of the university’s student body receives financial aid, and a significant number are first generation students – the first in their family to complete, and in many cases, attend, college. 

FMU recently launched the First Generation Fund in an effort to obtain still more resources to devote to that constituency

To read the full story on Florence CEO, click here.