Griffin: Great Deeds Have Improved the City

by Matthew Christian

Florence City Manager Drew Griffin stood in the corner of a plaza on South Dargan Street that was named after him and took stock of the city’s revitalization efforts.

Speaking at the dedication of the plaza, Griffin credited the councils he has worked with, his staff, his friends and his peers. Those groups, he said before pausing for a moment, have performed great deeds in their efforts to rebuild the downtown area.

A resident of the downtown area, Griffin walks his dog at night and gets to see the results of the city’s efforts firsthand.

“When you are downtown and other places, you see the joy that comes upon people’s faces, the expressions,” Griffin said before he paused for a moment. “How they interact.”

Those expressions illustrate the change in the culture around the city’s downtown.

“Where I am certainly very proud of downtown, I believe that this community should be equally proud with the work that we’re doing in neighborhoods,” Griffin said.

That work, Griffin continued, meant redefining neighborhoods that have been historically neglected.

“That is as critical as anything that we do as a community,” Griffin said.

He also said he is pleased with the city council’s decision to invest $15 million to $18 million into parks and recreation projects that will result in an investment in each city park of at least $300,000.

Those community spaces, he said, were important to what the city does, because they connect streets to neighborhoods, neighborhoods to the community and the community connects to itself.

“I pray that we will be able to continue to achieve,” Griffin said. “I thank everybody: the [Drs.] Bruce & Lee Foundation, city council, my friends, this community, certainly my wife, my parents.”

When he started working in public service, Griffin received some advice from another government employee: If you make decisions in the interest of the community, then you will always be OK.

Griffin shared that piece of advice as he spoke at the dedication of the Andrew H. Griffin Plaza.

“I have been very blessed to follow those words of wisdom,” Griffin said.

The dedication ceremony also featured a performance by the South Florence Choraliers, directed by Dr. Erick Figueras.

The city-built plaza and the splash pad inside it give parents the ability to take their children downtown for lunch and then have the children play in the fountain or for parents to visit the Florence County Museum and then take their children to play at the fountain. The pad was named after Griffin at the May meeting of the city council.

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GEICO Joins Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Geico in Florence has joined the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. To mark the occasion, a ribbon cutting was held Tuesday with chamber ambassadors joining the celebration.

Roger Armfield is the local Geico owner. The insurance company is at 2151 W. Evans St., Suite D.

Geico has been in Florence for approximately 2½ years. Armfield said he was in Sumter for roughly 20 years.

The company offers auto, boat, motorcycle and ATV insurance. Armfield said it insures about anything that moves. He said it also offers homeowners, condo and renters insurance.

“Geico is the second-largest insurance company in the United States and has the highest satisfaction rating,” Armfield said.

There are five employees working in the Florence office.

“I want to be an active member,” he said.

Armfield is a South Carolina native. He lives in Sumter. He is married and has two grown children.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with family. His hobbies center on boating and fishing.

The Geico hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturday.

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Fall Chamber Classic Was a Success

The Chamber Staff wants to thank all of our sponsors and players who helped make our 2019 Fall Classic a huge success! Especially Raldex Hospitality for being the overall sponsor. We also want to congratulate our winners:

Coming in First Place was Synovus

And in Second Place was Carolina Bank

Chamber Membership Luncheon Set for Thursday

by Ardie Arvidson

The 2019 Business Person of the Year will be revealed and Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela will speak about the state of the city of Florence and its current growth plans at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Fall Membership Luncheon on Thursday at the Florence Center.

The Business Person of the Year award is presented to a successful business person with a record of responsibility toward employees, customers and members of the greater Florence community, chamber President Mike Miller said.

Wukela promises to give chamber members a glimpse of what they might experience in the not-so-distant future, Miller said.

“With all that has happened in the last six or seven years and the pace at which the changes are now springing up, Florence seems to be positioned well for quicker development in downtown, surrounding community centers and the Florence Center hospitality and shopping area,” Miller said.

“Mayor Wukela will also touch on what is spurring the continued expansions.”

Last year’s recipient of the Business Person of the Year award was Schipp Johnston, the owner of Crown Beverages in Florence. The award is sponsored each year by Wells Fargo and presented at the Chambers Fall Membership Luncheon. Robert Sasser, the managing director at Wells Fargo, is expected to present the award.

To be eligible for the Business Person of the Year Award, the person must be a business member of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and be associated with a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or professional practice in the Florence area. Elected officials and employees of government or not-for-profit organizations are ineligible unless they are also involved in business and meet all other eligibility requirements.

The Chamber Membership Luncheon will start at noon. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. People from area businesses and the general public are invited to attend. Tickets cost $30 for chamber members and $40 for nonmembers. To register and buy tickets, call the Chamber at 843-665-0515 or visit Seating is limited to 500 people. The event is expected to be a sellout.

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Big Plans at Sneed as Principal Proposes a STEM Magnet Middle School

by Lauren Owens

Fellows in Education participants heard Sneed Middle School Principal Bentley Oates talk Tuesday about his plans for a STEM magnet middle school at Sneed.

The Fellows in Education program is sponsored by Florence One Schools, The School Foundation and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. The program allows businesses and community leaders to get an in-depth look into Florence schools.

Oates said he is working with Chris Rogers, the STEM director of Florence One Schools, to move toward becoming a STEM magnet school next school year.

“I want Sneed to have something we’re known for,” Oates said.

Oates said they decided to go this route because the STEM classes have been very successful at the school and the teachers are very good.

After the eighth grade, Sneed Middle students go to West Florence High School, which is a STEM magnet school.

Sneed Middle has two leveled STEM classes: app creators and design and modeling. A modeled STEM class is one where there are two parts of the classes available to students.

Sneed Middle also has two STEM classes that are not leveled: robotics and medical detectives.

Oates also gave an overview of the school’s opportunities for students and spoke about the school’s report card for the 2018-19 school year.

Sneed Middle received an above average ranking in social studies, English language arts and science, meaning students performed higher than the state average in these subject areas, Oates said. The school also saw a 7% increase in the number of students taking high school classes.

After Oates’ presentation, the fellows toured several classrooms, including a science, math, English and STEAM class. The fellows observed classes creating pull toys, working collaboratively on math problems and English assignments and learning about honey production.

The particpants even received sample bottles of honey from the Sneed Middle beehive.

Twana McRae said her visit to Sneed Middle was beautiful, and she thinks the school is doing a fantastic job at what it does.

“Whatever they’re doing here, they need to continue doing it,” McRae said. “Other middle schools and schools should mirror what they’re doing, because they’re doing a fantastic job.”

This is the fifth year the Fellows in Education program has taken place.

The School Foundation Executive Director Debbie Hyler said they started the program to show the community what is truly going on in the walls of a modern school.

“It’s really interesting to me to see the participants’ eyes light up,” Hyler said. “I think they truly are amazed. So many people haven’t been in a modern-day classroom.”

The program consists of eight sessions. The group visits one school each month to learn about the school’s programs and needs.

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“Money Saver” Thrift Store Joins Chamber of Commerce

by Ardie Arvidson

Brenda’s “Money Saver” Thrift Store at 1553 W. Palmetto St. in Florence held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning to celebrate its opening and membership into the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber ambassadors joined owner Brenda Branham and her staff for the occasion.

It is a family-run business with Branham’s sister, Laurie Rutrough, as manager and a niece as her only other employee.

Branham started in the thrift store business in Easley and came to Florence from Pickens. She opened on Sept. 9.

Branham said she joined the chamber at the encouragement of her sister.

Rutrough said the chamber has a great reputation for helping small businesses.

“We also wanted to get involved in the community,” Branham said.

They buy and resales items. Merchandise is acquired from scouring yard sales and auctions. Items include clothing, shoes, antiques, collectibles, jewelry, furniture, wedding dresses, baby items, exercise equipment and more.

“We also take donations,” Branham said.

She said proceeds from donated items go to the Women’s Prison Fund and for a Christmas Party for special needs children through the Waccamaw Tractor and Small Engine Club.

Through Dec. 7, Rutrough said they are running a promotion to give away a television set to someone who purchases items totaling $20 or more.

“We do deliveries and pick up,” Branham said. “And soon we will have lay-a-ways.

For additional information, call 843-702-0061 or 843-861-5179 or visit their Facebook page.

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