Emerging Leaders Meet for Third Summer Session

The Chamber’s 18-member Emerging Leaders Summer Institute class learned about Education and Leadership Development in Florence today.

The class visits included Florence Presbyterian Community, The Florence County Public Library, and The Carolinian.

Presenters included Doris Lockhart of AccuStaff and Ray Reich of Florence Downtown Development.

Condos May Be Coming to Downtown Florence

by Matthew Christian

Condos could soon be coming to North Dargan Street.

Florence Downtown Development Manager Ray Reich said Tuesday that a developer was working with the city to purchase the former L.B. Small’s Used Furniture location at 141 N. Dargan St. with the intention of tearing the existing building down and building something, most likely condominiums on the site. He was not at liberty to give the name.

“There’s a group that’s going to acquire the building,” Reich said. “The city acquired it. The group will tear it down and renovate it.”

Property tax records indicate the city purchased the property on Oct. 4, 2018, for $499,999.

Reich said ultimately the final use for the property would be condominiums but there is the possibility that the bottom floor could be turned into a commercial development.

Reich added the existing structure needed to be torn down because its roof had collapsed and the structure was “pretty nasty” inside.

A roof collapsing is a serious issue for a building like the one at 141 N. Dargan St. because when the building was built, the roof was designed to hold the walls in place. Without the roof, the building becomes more likely to fall down.

According to property tax records, the structure was built in 1915.

Reich added that construction would likely have begun already on the project but for high construction costs.

The development of condos joins two other projects currently underway in the 100 block of North Dargan Street.

To the right of 141 North Dargan St. at 151 North Dargan St. is property owned by Barefoot Child Properties LLC.

Reich said that property would be turned into a commercial area downstairs and another condominium where the owner of the limited liability company, Dr. Mark Stokes, intends to reside. Reich estimated that this project was around three-fourths of the way done.

One building to the left of the 141 N. Dargan project at 135 N. Dargan St. is the property owned by Terrence Thomas through ASK Investments LLC that will be the location of two apartments, a roof-top bar, and The Lost Cajun Seafood restaurant.

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

Well Center Pharmacy Joins Florence Chamber, Cuts Ribbon

by Matthew Christian

Shortly after 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning Well Center Pharmacy owner Marlon Orias cut the ceremonial ribbon to join the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Orias, a native of the Philippines, opened the pharmacy on June 5 with his wife, Marelle, after both lost their jobs when two local Rite Aids closed following Rite Aid’s purchase by Walgreens.

He said they made the decision to join the chamber to give something back to the community.

“If we go back to basics,” Orias said Thursday after he cut the ribbon, “I moved here from a third-world country. I migrated and this city’s been good to me.”

Florence, he said, was welcoming when he moved here. He said he found South Carolina’s residents to be very warm and welcoming.

He added that he had spent 10 years in Florence as a pharmacist at the Rite Aid in Five Points. Marelle spent 11 years as a pharmacist at the Darlington Rite Aid. Orias said he had raised his family in Florence and had become established in the community.

“That’s why I decided to support the chamber of commerce being a part of the community of Florence,” Orias said. “It was a way to give back.”

What sets Well Center, and all independent pharmacies, apart from the nationally known chains, Orias said, is the level of customer service.

“For us being independent, we are capable of being more personal with the customers,” Orias said.

He said the pharmacy would be more caring when it comes to filling prescriptions and the service would be more courteous.

Well Center will also offer training.

Customers will have the opportunity to participate in the Medication Therapy Management and Lifestyle Coaching Program, a health-management program sponsored by the South Carolina Pharmacy Association and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Marelle is also certified in opioid teaching.

The pharmacy also offers immunizations and will offer delivery options for the elderly.

The pharmacy is open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. It is at 605 S. Irby St. (across from the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Library). For more information, visit wellcenterpharmacy.com or call 843-799-5054.

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce has around 600 business members. Its mission 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.

Chamber’s Echols Graduates from Riley Diversity Institute

Les Echols, Director of Community and Minority Enterprise for the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, recently joined 39 leaders from the Midlands and surrounding area in completing the Riley Institute at Furman’s Diversity Leaders Initiative.

Over the past five months, participants in the program examined sensitive issues related to diversity and inclusion, explored “blind spots” and discussed how to suspend assumptions. Facilitating the program was Juan Johnson, an independent consultant and former Coca-Cola vice president.

As part of the program, participants worked in small, cross-sector groups to respond to real issues and opportunities in their communities through service projects. Echols’ group, College Bound Kids, created a project that focuses on increasing education for parents and students about 529 college savings plans and developing resources to assist them, which in turn will give more students the opportunity to attend college.

DLI class members are identified through a rigorous process including a nomination, application, and interview. Individuals are selected to join the class based on their capacity to impact their organizations and communities. In addition to the Midlands, DLI classes are selected annually in the Upstate and Lowcountry. Each class is crafted to reflect the diverse demographics in South Carolina.

DLI graduates become Riley Fellows, members of a powerful, cross-sector, statewide leadership network that includes CEOs of corporations, mayors, city and county council members, legislators, school superintendents, pastors and rabbis, non-profit heads, chamber of commerce directors and community leaders.

To read the full article on My Florence Today, click here.

Seminole 6 Sports Holds Ribbon Cutting in Florence

by Ardie Arvidson

Seminole 6 Sports held a ribbon cutting on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate its membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Chamber. Chamber ambassadors were there to help celebrate.

Michael “Mike” Goodman, coach, cut the ribbon while team members, cheerleaders and other coaches watched.

Seminole 6 Sports is a member of the AAU football program and the first in Florence County, Goodman said.

They have about 100 children participating this first year of the program. There are 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U age brackets, he said.

“We haven’t had any games yet,” Goodman said.

The travelling football team’s first game will be on Sept. 7 in West Columbia.

Goodman said he wanted to give the kids a choice. He said there are traveling baseball and basketball teams in the area, but there were no traveling football teams.

“I wanted the kids to see this as an option,” he said.

He said he wanted to thank Beedy Waddell, state coordinator of the AAU program, for making this possible.

He said the middle-school-age children have a choice to play on the traveling team and or their school’s junior varsity team.

“They can do both,” he said. “There is still time to join.”

The players are in training Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:15 at West Florence High School.

Head coaches include Jackie Foxe, Doug Gamble, Steven Thayer, Candace Hampton and Kelvin Burnette.

“I want to thank Ben Oates, principal of Sneed Middle School, because his was the only school that allowed us to use their field for our kids to practice and for our games,” Goodman said.

He said Walt Parker, whose son is on the team, has been indispensable thus far with helping the team get started. He said he also has to thank his wife, Samantha Goodman, who has been a tremendous help.

For more information about the football program, visit seminolesports.com or visit its Facebook page.

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

Chamber’s Emerging Leaders Program Meets for Second Session

The Florence Chamber held our second Emerging Leaders Summer Institute session, with Technology, Industry and Innovation as the theme. The group visited local businesses and meeting community leaders throughout the day.

Thank you to HillSouth, ACS Technologies, SIMT – Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing & Technology , Gould Business Incubator, The Manor and ADP for taking time out to host and present to the group on July 17th.

Inland Port Dillon’s First Year a Big Success

by Matthew Christian

Inland Port Dillon handled 29,580 rail moves in its first year of business.

The South Carolina State Ports Authority announced Inland Port Dillon’s first year statistics in a news release this week.

“SCPA’s container business had a record-setting fiscal year, and our inland ports in Greer and Dillon continue to see record growth year-over-year,” Ports Authority president and chief executive officer Jim Newsome said. “This accomplishment is the result of the entire South Carolina maritime community’s dedication to providing a great product to our customers.”

Inland Port Dillon opened on April 16, 2018 with a ceremonial ribbon-tearing by the two cargo container moving cranes at the site.

South Carolina Ports handled nearly 2.4 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) from July 2018 through June, an 8.8 percent increase in annual TEU container volume. The ports moved 200,406 TEUs across the Wando Welch and North Charleston container terminals last month. As measured by the total number of boxes handled, the moved 112,988 pier containers in June for a total of 1.36 million pier containers annually, up 9.1 percent.

“The Southeast remains the best place to be in the port business with a growing population to support imports and a strong manufacturing and automotive presence to boost exports,” Newsome said. “While we expect more modest growth in fiscal 2020, we are optimistic about the future and continue to invest in our infrastructure.”

The ports also handled a total of 213,081 cruise passengers in fiscal 2019, and they reported more than 330,000 rail moves in fiscal 2019 through its RapidRail program, which provides a seamless connection between rail yards and marine terminals.

The port now handles 24% of containerized volumes by intermodal container rail — the highest annual percentage in Port history. It also handled 18,307 vehicles at Columbus Street Terminal in June for a total of 194,771 vehicles in fiscal 2019.

Inland Port Greer, now in its sixth year of operation, reported its busiest fiscal year yet with 143,204 rail moves in fiscal 2019, up nearly 22 percent from the prior year. Inland Port Greer reported 14,689 rail moves last month.

South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), established by the state’s General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport and intermodal facilities in Charleston, Dillon, Georgetown and Greer. As an economic development engine for the state, the ports authority operations facilitate 187,200 statewide jobs and generate nearly $53 billion annual economic activity.

The Charleston port is soon to be home to the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet.

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

Sopakco Expanding its Marion County Operation

Staff Reports

A processed foods company is expanding its Marion County operations.

Sopakco is expanding its Marion County operations, according to a news release issued by the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Sopakco’s expansion, which includes constructing a new facility to house its corporate offices, is designed to increase manufacturing capacity and flexibility.

The company is investing more than $12.5 million on a three-phase expansion that is expected to create 25 new jobs.

“Sopakco has experienced great success in South Carolina,” Sopakco President Lonnie Thompson said. “This is the third expansion in Marion County in the past five years. The value that Marion County brings through its business-friendly climate and quality workforce has allowed us to thrive here, and we look forward to continuing our partnership.”

Sopakco has been a job creator in Marion County for several decades, Marion County Council Chairman Buddy Collins said.

“It is a great thing that they will expand and remain in our county,” Collins said. “We are here to help and assist Sopakco in any way that they need.”

This latest expansion by Sopakco proves that South Carolina is a perfect place to do business, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said.

“Congratulations to Sopakco for all of its success, and we look forward to watching the company grow and thrive here for many years to come,” McMaster said.

The ongoing success of Sopakco in Marion County is a testament to South Carolina’s status as a leader in food processing, S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said.

“We applaud Sopakco on this latest expansion and look forward to their continued success,” Hitt said.

Sopakco’s continued investment in rural South Carolina is another great example of the potential of the state’s value-added agricultural sector and its contribution to agribusiness, S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said.

“I am thrilled with their growth and the additional 25 jobs this expansion will create for rural South Carolina,” Weathers said.

The Coordinating Council for Economic Development has approved a $250,000 Rural Infrastructure Fund grant to Marion County to assist with the costs of site preparation and infrastructure improvements.

In 1943, Sopakco was founded out of the need for military food rations. More than 70 years later, the company remains one of the top providers of meals ready to eat, commonly known as MREs, to the U.S. military. In addition to emergency meal rations, Sopakco has evolved to become a cutting-edge food processing company for major national and international brands. The company is headquartered at 118 S. Cypress Street in Marion County.

Individuals interested in careers at Sopakco can visit Sopakco.com/careers/.

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

FMU Plans Series of Construction Projects

FMU Release

Francis Marion University soon will begin a series of major construction projects.

At its quarterly meeting on June 20, the university’s board of trustees unanimously approved two separate resolutions to facilitate the planned work. FMU President Fred Carter outlined the strategic vision behind the plans during his remarks at the meeting.

“These projects are an integral part of FMU’s future,” Carter said. “They’ll enhance existing programs, provide the capacity for new ones and accelerate the university’s momentum. It’s an exciting time to be at FMU.”

The resolutions involved a property transfer relating to the university’s planned freshwater ecology laboratory and conference center, and a bond refinancing.

The projects in the pipeline include the refurbishing of the old post office in downtown Florence, the construction of an Honors Center on FMU’s main campus, construction of the freshwater ecology laboratory and conference center just north the main campus, a final-phase addition to the Griffin Athletic Complex field house, a remodeling of the Smith University Center’s athletic facilities, residence hall renovations and the nearly completed new Dargan Street facility in the L.S. Rainwater Building.

That facility, the former L.S. Rainwater Building at 143 N. Dargan St., will soon be home to Francis Marion’s Kelley Center for Economic Development and its business incubator, some university offices, office space for the North Eastern Strategic Alliance regional economic development organization and a new, first-floor art gallery, curated by FMU’s fine arts faculty.

Perhaps the most complex project is the $8 million renovation of the old post office and federal building on West Evans Street in downtown Florence. The 38,000-square foot building, across the street from FMU’s Carter Center for Health Sciences, will host classroom, lab and office space for FMU’s growing collection of Health Science programs. Work there is in the planning stage.

The Honors Center, a $4.1 million facility located in the heart of FMU’s main campus, will serve the university’s burgeoning Honors Program, the McNair Center for Research and Service and FMU’s International Studies Program. Initial work on the 15,000-square-foot building is scheduled to begin late this year.

A 146-acre tract donated to FMU by the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation this spring, will be the site of the new freshwater ecology laboratory and conference center. The land, which includes 20-acre lake, is north of the intersection of I-95 and S.C. 327. The laboratory will serve as a learning site for FMU’s natural sciences and will allow for expansion of programs in that area. The planned conference center will be available for both university and community events.

FMU has been renovating its Village Apartments, the oldest university residential housing units, since the end of the spring semester. That project is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy this fall.

A major makeover of the Griffin Athletic Complex and the Smith University Center is also in the works. These improvements will add or enhance facilities for FMU’s student athletes and introduce new capacities in the area of athletic training and student-athlete health.

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

Specialty Finance Company Joins Florence Chamber, Cuts Ribbon

by Ardie Arvidson

AG Resource Management (ARM) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday morning to celebrate its membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Chamber. Chamber ambassadors were there to help celebrate.

AG Resource Management is located at 205 N. Irby St. Suite C, in Florence

Dr. Cy F. Boyer is the market leader at ARM, a specialty finance company focusing on “bringing financial and risk management solutions to agribusiness.”

The company opened in October 2018 in Florence.

Boyer said their lending is based on the crop, crop insurance and government payments.

He said the company’s background is primarily in agriculture.

“We help farmers stay in business,” Boyer said.

He said they also write crop insurance.

The company was founded 11 years ago by Brad Terrell and has 36 branches, with 10-12 slated to open this year and another 10-12 next year.

Boyer said the company now has $1 billion in assets and 7.5 million loans.

“People are beginning to ask who we are,” Boyer said. “It is a great company with a great culture.”

Boyer is a staff of one at the moment but says plans are to hire five to seven staffers.

He said business has been mostly by referrals and word of mouth from farmers.

Boyer said he has 27 years of experience in all areas of banking. He obtained his Ph.D. in applied science from Regis University in Denver, and he attended the University of South Carolina in the 1970s. He is from Georgia.

Office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, call 843-676-5623.

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