SC business leaders propose policies favoring small businesses

By: Nia Watson

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – Business leaders from across the state joined members of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce at the State House in Columbia Monday afternoon to announce the policies in their 2018 Competitiveness Agenda they will propose to lawmakers for the upcoming legislative session.

This year’s agenda focuses on tax reform and workforce development.

“We are hopeful that the business community is speaking loudly and clearly with one voice on the need for tax reform and additional efforts to try and train South Carolinians to do these jobs that we need filled here in South Carolina,” S.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Pitts said.

Business leaders said South Carolina has some of the highest business and personal income tax rates in the nation.

They’re asking lawmakers to reduce income tax burden on the state’s workforce that currently taxes workers’ income over $14,000 dollars at 7 percent.

“By lowering taxes, that’s going to enable us to have an opportunity to invest more capital into our business to grow our businesses,” S.C. Chamber of Commerce member Tim Norwood said.

Norwood, the former chairman of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said a competitive workforce through taxes and workforce development as a state means better business for the Pee Dee.

“Those things will help not only small businesses, but it will help us attract the large industries, manufacturing industries that we want to have in Florence and the Grand Strand,” Norwood said.

Norwood has deep ties in the Pee Dee, owning a few businesses in Florence, including the downtown restaurant Victors. He said finding qualified workers is a constant problem he faces.

“At my work, Victors, we are constantly looking for employees that have soft skills, as well as technical skills, to be able to work with us,” Norwood said. “It’s always a challenge.”

Increasing trainee programs, introducing putting ex-offenders back into the workforce, and fighting the current opioid crisis are just some ways business leaders plan to grow the state’s workforce development.

Norwood said while business in Florence is booming, there’s always room for more.

“All the Hondas that are made in the whole world, made in Florence. All the Tamiflu made in the world, made in Florence. All the GE magnets made in the world, made in Florence. So Florence is doing good, but we just want to do better,” Norwood said.

The South Carolina legislative session starts Tuesday.

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

WMBF Web Article – SC business leaders propose policies favoring small businesses

Fourth annual Small Works Competition in Florence now taking entries

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence Regional Arts Alliance is now accepting submissions for its fourth annual Small Works Competition.

Underwritten by The Citizens Bank, South State Bank, and Marshal’s Marine, this competition is open to two-dimensional and three-dimensional artists working in all mediums in the Carolinas, ages 18 and older. Final artwork may not be larger than 12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches to be considered.

The competition is billed as a way to “provide opportunity and exposure for emerging and professional artists alike, while also highlighting local art spaces throughout Florence County.”

 This year’s competition pieces will be hosted at NDC Photography Studio in Lake City.

The prizes for the competition are $500 for first place, $250 for second place, and $100 for third place and honorable mention.

Entries must be submitted through the Florence Regional Arts Alliance’s website — at florenceartsalliance.org/smallworks — by midnight on Jan. 8.

 The Small Works exhibition will be on display at NDC Photography from Feb. 1 through 24 with an opening reception on Feb. 1. Competition winners will be announced at the opening.

For more information, contact executive director Sandy Cook at director@florenceartsalliance.org or 843-407-3092.

SCNow Web Article – Fourth annual Small Works Competition in Florence now taking entries

Dominion Energy announced plans Wednesday to buy SCANA Corp.

RICHMOND, VA — Dominion Energy announced plans Wednesday to buy SCANA Corp., a South Carolina utility holding company that has been struggling under big cost overruns for a pair of canceled nuclear reactor projects, in a deal valued at $14.6 billion including debt.

As part of the deal, the Richmond-based utility giant is offering rebates for South Carolina utility customers who have been paying for the aborted nuclear projects and is also a shortened time frame to pay off the cost incurred before work stopped. Dominion has until recently fought to preserve legislation in Virginia that shields the company from having to issue refunds to customers if it “overearns” on base rates.

Customers of SCANA’s subsidiary, South Carolina Electric and Gas or SCE&G, will get a cash payment worth about $1,000 and what Dominion says will be a 5 percent rate reduction from current levels, about $7 a month for the typical residential customer. The cash payments to SCE&G customers will total about $1.3 billion and will be made within 90 days of the close of the deal.

Also, customer costs for the nuclear projects will be paid off in 20 years instead of the previously proposed 50-60 year timeframe.

In the merger, which still needs shareholder and federal and state regulatory approvals, SCANA shareholders would get about 0.67 shares of Dominion Energy common stock for each share of SCANA common stock, the equivalent of about $55.35 per share and a total value of nearly $8 billion.

The offer represents a premium of 42.4 percent to SCANA’s closing price of $38.87 on Tuesday. As of 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, SCANA shares are up more than 22 percent to $47.60.

“Dominion Energy is a strong, well-regarded company in the utility industry and its commitment to customers and communities aligns well with our values,” Jimmy Addison, CEO of SCANA, said in a statement. “Joining with Dominion Energy strengthens our company and provides resources that will enable us to once again focus on our core operations and best serve our customers.”

The combined company would serve 6.5 million electric and natural gas distribution customers in eight states, Dominion says.

Asked about his level of confidence that South Carolina officials would let the deal go through, Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion’s CEO, chairman and president, said in a conference call with investors Wednesday that he had “lengthy and fulsome” conversations with South Carolina’s governor and leaders in the legislature about the merger.

“I’m not going to characterize their reactions,” Farrell said. “I’m pleased with where things stand right now. Very pleased.”

SCANA’s companies have a workforce of about 6,000, more than 500,000 electric customers in 25 South Carolina counties and more than 1.3 million gas customers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

In December, SCANA filed a formal request with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw its operating licenses for a pair of nuclear units at the V.C. Summer Generating Station near Jenkinsville, S.C. That came after construction on the units was halted this summer by SCE&G and Santee Cooper, another South Carolina utility, amid about $9 billion in cost overruns. Though canceling of the projects saved customers future expenses, they were still on the hook for money already spent.

Dominion says its deal to merge with SCANA will write-off about $1.7 billion in V.C. Summer costs that will never be collected from customers and completion of the $180 million purchase of the Columbia Energy Center natural gas power plant at no cost to customers. Dominion also says it will provide $1 million a year in money for charitable contributions in SCANA’s communities for at least five years and give “employment protections” for SCANA employees until 2020.

“We believe this merger will provide significant benefits to SCE&G’s customers, SCANA’s shareholders and the communities SCANA serves. It would lock in significant and immediate savings for SCE&G customers – including what we believe is the largest utility customer cash refund in history – and guarantee a rapidly declining impact from the V.C. Summer project,” Farrell said in a statement.

“There also are potential benefits to natural gas customers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia and to their communities. And, this agreement protects employees and treats fairly SCANA shareholders, many of whom are working families and retirees in SCANA’s communities. The combined resources of our two companies make all this possible,” Farrell said.

But the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper reports that the sale hinges on keeping a South Carolina law that allows SCANA to keep collecting customer payments for the unfinished reactors. The newspaper reported that South Carolina regulators are considering whether customers of SCE&G should continue paying $37 million a month for the canceled projects.

South Carolina legislators also were to begin considering legislation next week that would cut off payments for the nuclear project, which account for 18 percent of customers’ electric bills, the newspaper reported.

“Had the state of South Carolina and its legislature punished both utilities any more for what they’d done, you’d be looking at potential bankruptcy, which mean customers get nothing,” said C. Ryan Frazier, a Dominion spokesman. “We’re proposing a way for customers to start getting their money back.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster called the announcement “progress” in a statement Wednesday morning, but not a resolution, since it leaves out Santee Cooper, the other South Carolina utility that had a major stake in the Summer project.

“Under the proposed agreement between SCANA and Dominion Energy, SCE&G ratepayers will get most of the money back they paid for the nuclear reactors and will no longer face paying billions for this nuclear collapse,” McMaster said.

“But this doesn’t resolve the issue,” he said. “Over 700,000 electric cooperative customers face the prospect of having their power bills sky rocket for decades to pay off Santee Cooper’s $4 billion in debt from this. The only way to resolve this travesty is to sell Santee Cooper. There is more work to be done, but today, we are headed in the right direction.”

On a conference call with investors Wednesday morning, Farrell said there is reportedly “a lot of interest” at Santee Cooper in a sale.

“And hopefully those people will pursue it,” Farrell said.

Dominion has been among the companies approached to buy Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility that is South Carolina’s largest power producer, providing electricity to more than two million people in the state, but Frazier would not say whether a merger is on the table.

A spokeswoman for Santee Cooper could not immediately be reached.

Big dollars pumping into big business for Pee Dee

Joshua Lloyd, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The past year proved to be huge for business investment across the Pee Dee region with more than $750 million in capital investment in announcements in 2017.

Many of these capital investments entail expansions of existing industry and come with a guarantee of local job creation – more than 1,600 over the next half decade.

Some of the largest projects announced this year in Florence County include a $40 million GE Healthcare expansion, a $79 million Ruiz Foods expansion and a $35 million McCall Farms expansion.

The largest investment announcement by far in 2017 was the $470 million upgrade to WestRock, which will preserve about 400 jobs at the Florence paper-mill.

Harbor Freight Tools announced a 1 million square-foot expansion to its East Coast distribution center in Dillon County. That expansion will bring more than 500 new jobs to the area and raise the company’s total investment in South Carolina to more than $200 million.

Fiber Industries is revamping an old Darlington County textile plant with a $30 million investment at the Palmetto facility off of McIver Road that is expected to create at least 135 new jobs.

Joe W. King , executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said 2017 was a good year for the area and bodes well for the future of the local economy.

“At the end of 2016, we felt 2017 would be good just by all the projects we had working through the pipelines, and it was a good year,” he said. “Most announcements were expansions. There’s a lot of glamor to bring in someone new, but it’s equally important to take care of those already here doing business. We don’t overlook their value.”

King added that 2018 will also be a great year for economic development in Florence County, as several projects are lined up to be announced in the first and second quarters of the year.

Another considerable note for the Pee Dee’s business community is the beginnings of the Dillon Inland Port, a 3,400-acre industrial park situated between Dillon and Latta near the North Carolina border.

The port will operate much like a marine port, except containers will be loaded onto trains rather than ships. CSX will serve the Dillon site, running overnight service to the Port of Charleston.

SCNow Web Article – Big dollars pumping into big business for Pee Dee 

Coming back to SC soon: American Pickers!

Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and their team are excited to return to South Carolina! They plan to film episodes of the hit series AMERICAN PICKERS throughout the region in February 2018!

AMERICAN PICKERS is looking for leads and would love to explore your hidden treasure. If you or someone you know has a large, private collection or accumulation of antiques that the Pickers can spend the better part of the day looking through, send your name, phone number, location and description of the collection with photos to:
americanpickers@cineflix.com or call 855-OLD-RUST.

Florence Center brings governments together

By: Joshua Lloyd, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence Center, formerly known as the Florence Civic Center, is growing both figuratively and literally.

In 2017, construction of a 28,000-square-foot expansion with a price tag of $16 million got underway. That project is nearly complete and is expected to be ready for use before the end of January.

What it took to get here, however, was no small feat: a multi-government cooperation for a publically funded project during a time when Florence city and county council weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

Tensions rose between Florence’s city and county councils throughout 2016 and into 2017 over downtown parking woes, peaking with a disagreement on funding paths for a joint deck and a “going of separate ways” on the matter.

At this point, the two governmental bodies had already approved $15 million in funding for the civic center expansion, but construction officials needed another million to complete the project in a feasible way.

Neither entity hesitated to work with their counterpart to get the job done. The decision to find the extra funds was unanimous from both sides.

“We might not always like the other’s approach, but more often than not we all agree on why the things we’re doing need to be done,” Florence Mayor Pro Tempore Buddy Brand said at the time.

Officials agree the center has led to massive investment in hotels, retail and food, and this addition will increase the center’s profile for more convention-style events.

A major driver behind this decision is a universal, bipartisan desire for continued economic development.

“Our philosophy is we don’t want to give anybody an excuse not to come here,” County Council Chairman Kent Caudle said. “We don’t want to deter the wheels of commerce, and we know the city is the same way.”

The new expansion adds 28,000 square feet to the center – which includes 8,000 square feet of sub-dividable space, 5,000 square feet of new kitchen space and 12,000 square feet of lobby and meeting room space.

Anyone driving by the center will see a new paint job and color scheme, along with a new logo that sports the rebranded name.

Beyond that, the center is under new leadership in General Manager Paul Beard – a veteran in that market with fresh ideas on how to make the center thrive in this new chapter of its existence.

The new motto to match this new chapter is, “We’re at the Center.”

SCNow.com Web Article – Florence Center brings governments together

AT&T donates $5k to Jr. Leadership Florence

Thank you AT&T for your support!

Junior Leadership Florence County is modeled after the Florence Chamber’s Leadership Florence program, and is designed for public and private high school sophomores and juniors. It enables students to be able to develop leadership skills while also increasing their awareness of the community. Junior Leadership Florence County consists of an opening retreat, followed by eight monthly sessions, and seeks to provide an investment in the community’s future leadership by fostering interest in the county and inspiring students to become the leaders of tomorrow. The program is made possible through a joint partnership with Florence County 4-H, The greater Florence Chamber and Francis Marion University with grants and funding from various community organizations.

Parade makes Christmas in Florence official

By: SCNow.com

FLORENCE, S.C. – Hundreds of people lined Evans Street from Edisto Drive into downtown Florence for the annual Christmas parade on Saturday.

Fifty-two float entries made up the parade, under the theme “Love and Peace.”

One of those entries was The Little Gym of Florence. Soha Patel said the gym is geared toward teaching gymnastics to children 4 months to 12 years old, and it entered the parade as a way to reach out to the community.

“We just want to increase awareness about what’s out there,” she said. “I think all these businesses that’s our intention to let our community know we’re here.”

The group from The Little Gym consisted of around 20 students and parents.

“The little ones are super excited,” said Patel. “Some of them will probably do cartwheels and handstands.”

Another group hoping to get its name out to the community in Florence was the city of Florence Junior Allstars, part of the Florence Junior Football League. The team was coming off a state championship win last weekend in Beaufort.

“I want everybody to let them get their recognition,” said coach Darryl Mitchell, “They’re the best team in the state so they should be recognized.”

The team, made up of 7- and 8-year-olds, filled up two truck beds and a limousine for the parade.

“Everybody’s excited because they want to get in the limo,” said Mitchell. “They’re a good group, out of the six years they’re the best group I’ve had.”

First doctoral class at Francis Marion University set to begin matriculation

By: SCNow.com

FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University’s first class of doctoral students is nearly complete and will begin their studies in January when FMU’s spring semester begins.

Dr. Ruth Wittmann-Price, dean of the university’s School of Health Science, said in a news release the initial class in the new Doctor of Nursing Practice program will include 15 students, slightly more than originally forecast.

She said the new degree meets a significant need in this region and beyond, and follows a national trend in advanced practice nursing education.

“Recently, it’s become the recommendation that family nurse practitioners should be educated at a doctoral level,” Wittmann-Price said. “This is where we need to go with our nursing program.”

The program recently received its final regulatory approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The launch of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program is a landmark in the 47-year history of Francis Marion and an addition to the University’s fast-growing offerings in health care education.

This doctoral degree will allow graduates to attain the highest possible standing within the field of nursing practice. The program requires 27 credit hours of classroom work for candidates who enter the program with a Masters-level degree already in hand.

Francis Marion has operated its own undergraduate nursing program for more than a decade. It added the Masters level degree for Nurse Educators and Family Nurse Practitioner in 2012, and graduated its first FNP class in 2014.

More information on the Doctor of Nursing Practice program is available at www.fmarion.edu/healthsciences.