SC chamber eyes tax reform, teacher shortage in 2019

By: Matthew Christian

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2019 Competitiveness Agenda on Monday.

The agenda focuses on reforming the state’s tax code and improving the state’s workforce development program, including addressing the teacher shortage.

“The SC Chamber is excited to announce its 2019 Competitiveness Agenda, a set of policy priorities that will move South Carolina forward and create jobs in the state,” Chamber chief executive officer Ted Pitts said in a news release. “The business community stands ready to roll up its sleeves to work with the General Assembly to achieve these goals this session.”

Tax Reform

The chamber’s agenda calls for simplifying and lowering the state’s top marginal tax rate of 7 percent, the updating and modernizing of the state’s sales tax system, improving the equitability of property taxes on commercial, non-owner occupied and manufacturing property while addressing funding disparities, and a reformation of the state’s business license tax structure.

The chamber says that South Carolina’s top marginal rate is the highest in the Southeast and kicks in at $14,860. In many cases the effective rate for taxpayers is also the highest in the Southeast.

South Carolina and Virginia have the narrowest sales tax bases in the Southeast, according to information provided by the chamber.

Rural commercial properties face an average effective rate of 2.8 percent in South Carolina as compared to 1.8 percent nationally, according to the chamber. Urban manufacturing properties in the Palmetto State face the fifth-highest effective rate in the nation, according to the news release.

“The business community is united. It is time for South Carolina to overhaul its broken tax structure, including the unfair property tax system, and we are ready to partner with stakeholders from across the state to get it done,” said Lou Kennedy, the chamber chair. “Tax reform is going to make South Carolina more competitive, and that is a win for families and businesses.”

South Carolina’s business license tax system is one of the most costly and burdensome taxes for small businesses, said Steve Spinks, president of the Spinx Company.

“As a business owner that operates stores across many counties in the state, I can tell you from first-hand experience that South Carolina needs to reform the business license tax system,” Spinks said.

South Carolina’s current tax structure was built more for the 1950s economy, said Chris Barras, Ernst and Young’s executive director of tax services.

“This creates challenges for individual taxpayers and businesses,” Barras said. “We have an opportunity to modernize our tax code with a comprehensive and intentional approach using The Road Map for Tax Reform as a guide.”

The Road Map to Tax Reform is a chamber guide to improving the state’s tax system.

“There is no question that South Carolina’s tax code needs to be overhauled to make it more competitive, less burdensome and more equitable for job creators and families,” Pitts said. “Similarly, our businesses can’t thrive without a well-prepared workforce, so we focus on improving the education pipeline, including combating the teacher shortage.”

Workforce development

The chamber calls for the supporting of efforts to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, making housing in high-growth areas more attainable, striving for the expansion of career-awareness and training initiatives to fill high-demand jobs and making it easier for qualified professionals to be credentialed and certified in the state.

“Developing the future workforce is critical to the continued growth and success of our company,” said Knudt Flor, president of BMW Manufacturing Company. “The BMW Scholars Apprenticeship Program plays a key role in keeping our plant competitive. This program continues to be an excellent example of how collaboration between the business and educational sectors can ensure that advanced manufacturing remains a key driver for our state in years to come. Training programs like this and others should be expanded. Manufacturers stand ready to do what it takes to increase awareness and training opportunities across the state.”

Education is the pipeline for tomorrow’s workforce, said Kathy Dudley Helms, an Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. shareholder.

“The business community needs our state’s policy makers to address the persistent issues that exist in the public education system,” Helms said. “We have to value our teachers with better pay and working conditions; we must prepare students for the jobs of today with more skills training and apprenticeship opportunities; and we have to update the funding model.”

The chamber’s board developed the 2019 Competitiveness Agenda through input from the business community and its partner, the Tax Foundation.

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce says it’s a statewide organization that promotes pro-job and pro-business policies at the state and federal level.

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CBD Store holds ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Staff Reports

FLORENCE, S.C. — A day after celebrating its grand opening Your CBD Store on Second Loop Road in Florence had its Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting.

Located at 2405-J Second Loop Road in Florence, the store specializes in CBD (cannabidiol) oils, said Eugene and Ashley Jacobs, owners of the Florence franchise.

“We did a little research on the need for CBD oil in the area and after a long discussion, visiting a few CBD stores and seeing if it was a good fit we decided to invest,” Eugene Jacobs said. “We thought it would be a good fit for the area.”

“I think it’s going to be great for the Florence community. There is a big need for it and I see it becoming a bigger need,” Ashley Jacobs said.

Eugene Jacobs is from Rockingham and Ashley Jacobs from Dillon.

He works in direct sales and is a Realtor in the Pee Dee.

“I decided I didn’t have enough to do and I needed one more thing going on in my life,” Eugene Jacobs said. “Florence has been a good fit for us.”

Ashley Jacobs said the oils have zero THC — the chemical that produces the “high” associated with marijuana.

“All the benefits without the high. A lot of people cannot handle the high,” Jacobs said.

Aroha Arts Collective moves into Florence incubator facilities

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – Aroha Arts Collective danced into the Charles W. Gould Manufacturing and Business Incubator on Wednesday afternoon.

Aroha founder, director, and lead instructor Adalia Ellis-Aroha moved her dance instruction business into the incubator next to the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Ellis-Aroha said she had been renting studio space at several locations around Florence but decided her business needed a more permanent address. She said she has eventual plans of relocating her business into the downtown area of Florence.

“My business has been up and running for a while,” Ellis-Aroha said. “I was living in Raleigh but didn’t really kind of settle in to building a community until I was here in Florence.”

Ellis-Aroha also cut the ribbon to celebrate joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

She said she joined because of the chamber’s efforts in establishing businesses in the city’s downtown.

She said she grew up in Florence and left as a teenager. She also spent time in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Raleigh, and Myrtle Beach. Ellis-Aroha said she decided to come back to Florence after she got connected with Ezra Brown, the owner of Soule Café. Brown invited her to come to Florence and teach classes a couple of times a week.

“So many people came out and I saw that there was an interest for this style of dance,” Ellis-Aroha continued. “And so we decided to move here.”

Also, as a member of the Bahá’í Faith, she wanted to be closed to the activities in that community. According to Bahai.com, the Bahá’í Faith “is a world religion based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. He taught there is one God and one human family, and that the great religions of the world represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.”

Aroha Arts Collective features instruction in three types of Latin dance, kizomba, bachata, and salsa, as well as instruction in hip-hop, and afro-house.

The name “Aroha” derives from a Maori word that roughly translates to love. It is pronounced like the Hawaiian “Aloha” but with an “r” instead of an “l.” The Maori are the native people of the islands of New Zealand.

Ellis-Aroha said she adopted the name for her dance instruction classes while she was teaching in Abu Dhabi and a student of hers suggested the name.

“I was already trying to figure out what I wanted to have to describe my company, my organization as a dancer and this was the word she said, ‘I think the word that would fit was aroha,’” Ellis-Aroha said. “It means love, love of community, love of what you bring to the community, love of dance, love of art. It’s just so all-encompassing.”

After a good 2018, Pee Dee business leaders look ahead positively

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — The outlook for the Florence business community in 2019 is positive, according to local business and industry leaders.

From the Florence Center’s newly constructed 25,000-square foot facility that opened in January to Carolina Bank’s $4.5 million investment in its new headquarters in downtown Florence, which opened December, and everything in between, Florence saw major economic development in 2018.

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said 2018 was a busy year for growth in the Pee Dee region.

“It’s been a busy year, starting with the opening of the new $32 million County Judicial Center in downtown Florence,” Miller said. “We have seen many national retailers like Lidl, Home Goods, Five-Below, H&M and Forever 21 opening doors in our market — along with dozens of other local and regional new retailers.”

Miller said several key milestones, including Honda of South Carolina celebrating its 20-year anniversary, the opening of the new Florence County Judicial Center, the Dillon Port Project and the $7 million investment in the Darlington Raceway were all major accomplishments for the area.

“Certainly, the expansion of the Florence Center and the opening of the new soccer facility were critical and needed project completions,” Miller said. “And it was great to see Carolina Bank having a soft opening to their new three-story downtown Florence offices.”

Joe W. King, executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said the expansions across the county highlighted 2018.

“There’s a lot of glamour in bringing in something new — all the ribbon cuttings, grand openings and things of that nature,” King said. “But we also have to take care of people here. That’s what those expansions did.”

King said that some of the tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminum could’ve played a part in costing Florence county economic growth. He said he is interested in seeing how those affect Florence moving forward.

“There were several projects that we [Florence County] were short-listed for, but due to the tariffs, they were stopped,” King said. “In 2019, I expect those to continue to affect us in certain areas, but I believe industries we re-analyze and that the projects will come back.”

King said it’s tough to predict the outlook for a year, but he expects a positive return for Florence County.

“We’ve got several projects on the horizon,” King said. “I think what we have in the pipeline is a positive outlook for 2019. It’s tough, in many ways, to project forward though because of the volatility of the stock market and things of that nature.”

In 2019, Miller said he is looking forward to more expected announcements for downtown Florence projects, including Francis Marion University’s medical classroom complex.

“These projects along with the new downtown Hyatt hotel will create more activity for existing restaurants and business establishments,” Miller said. “There are further expansion possibilities with current area manufactures that could be announced next year, including Honda of South Carolina that will celebrate production of a new product in January.”

Miller said he expects continued growth with more businesses flocking to Florence, not just in 2019 but in the considerable future.

“Just as we started out in 2018, you can anticipate another year of solid business progress,” Miller said. “Retail will continue to offer new national brand and local business openings. You’ll see more downtown Florence project announcements and some regional manufacturing expansions. Hospitality will continue to be a major factor in our growth. Hotels like the eight-story Staybridge Suites that just opened near Florence Center and the planned February opening of the 103 room Hyatt Place Hotel in downtown Florence will drive complementing new restaurant announcements as well.”

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Plenty of contenders as Pepsi Carolina Classic tips off Thursday

By: Abbie Skeen

FLORENCE – The number of teams playing in the Pepsi Carolina Classic might be down, but the number of potential contenders for the title certainly isn’t.

The three-day tournament begins Thursday at the Florence Center, and right away it features one of the marquee names as defending champion and top-seeded Hartsville takes on South Florence in the 2:30 p.m. game.

“We’re going to go in and play the best brand of basketball that we possibly can – just like we did last year,” Red Fox coach Yusuf English said. “The focus doesn’t change. We’re going to continue to do what we did last year and play as hard as we can.

“The field is extremely deep, but we’re going to try our best.”

In fact it’s the deepest field English has seen in his three years at Hartsville, he said. All three city schools will be represented, including Class 4A state runner-up Wilson, which is back for the first time since 2014.

Wilson is the No. 2 overall seed and not the only set of Tigers vying for the title. Defending Class A champion Hemingway comes in as the No. 5 seed. Hemingway will face Class 2A state runner-up Carvers Bay while another 2A contender, Marion, will battle perennial 4A power Darlington.

In all, seven of the eight teams qualified for the postseason a year ago with four of the seven making it to at the least the semifinal round.

“Sometimes you get a tournament that’s top-heavy, but that’s not the case here, as top to bottom you’ve got a lot of very good teams,” English said.

Hartsville and Wilson actually are right around the .500 mark for the season so far, but the third-seeded Falcons already have a double-digit win total.

“We’ve obviously got a lot of talented kids who’ve played hard and are hungry for wins,” first-year Darlington coach Anthony Heilbronn said. “We set a goal at the beginning of the year to play for championships, and this is one we had circled.”

Darlington has never won the Pepsi Carolina Classic, but Heilbronn is hoping this team can change that. Still, it won’t be easy, as the Falcons have played a number of the same squads already and have a familiarity with a few more.

“We’ve played Marion once this year, and if we win that first game, we’re matched up against South Florence or Hartsville,” Heilbronn said. “We’ve played South twice, and we will play Hartsville twice come January, and it’s very hard to beat good teams two or three times in the same season.”

Should their teams continue to win, both Heilbronn and English are hoping the experience at the Pepsi Carolina Classic will pay off come playoff time, as the lower state finals will take place in the same venue.

“Preparation and getting used to the goals and the depth perception in that arena – it’s definitely a plus to play in the Florence Center, because hopefully it’s a precursor of things to come,” English said.

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Business year in review: Expanded Florence Center bustling

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Construction came to a close and the Florence Center, previously known as the Florence Civic Center, opened up for business in January of 2018.

Plans for the 25,000 square-foot expansion to the facility were announced in early 2017 and included an 8,000-square-foot courtyard, a 5,000-square-foot kitchen and 8,000 square feet in sub-dividable meeting space.

The expansion offered six different meeting rooms and a junior grand ballroom, which brings the total amount of space of the facility to 75,000 square feet.

Because of the expansion, Florence Center General Manager Paul Beard said that bookings had gone “through the roof” earlier this year.

“We’re much more than just a civic center. We do social functions — like weddings, reunions and anniversaries — and we also do corporate functions, such as training sessions and meetings,” Beard said. “All of those things, in addition to the entertainment, put heads in beds, which generates economic growth.”

In addition to weddings, meetings, reunions and anniversaries, the Florence Center hosted several events that brought thousands of people to the facility throughout the year. From WWE Live to Disney on Ice to Monster Jam to public ice skating and everything in between, the center stayed busy. The first event to benefit from the new space was the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo in January.

The facility also boasted the creation of three brand new events: the S.C. Bridal Showcase, the Jingle Bell Market and the Greater Pee Dee State Fair & Expo.

During the summer, the Florence Center hosted the 2018 National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Championship Tournament, which brought more than 1,000 pitchers to the Pee Dee area and more than $3.5 million in economic impact.

“After such great success hosting the NHPA 2018 World Tournament, we’re confident we can attract other sporting events and competitions to Florence,” said Nick Hooker, director of marketing for the Florence Center. “Our team has already been in contact with a major sports convention, a national tennis tournament, an international martial-arts competition, and several other potential clients.”

And less than a month later, the Florence Center announced that it would be bringing back arena football to the Pee Dee in the form of the Carolina Havoc. The Havoc are slated to start their season in the spring of 2019.

“We’ve talked with a lot of different teams from many different sports over the years,” Beard said. “I can truly assure you that we’re bringing a team here that is going to rock this town. They’re committed to community engagement, and they will put an exciting product on the field.”

To close out 2018, the Florence Center will host the Pepsi Carolina Classic, a showcase tournament for high school basketball teams from around the area.

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Hyatt Place Downtown Florence expected to open in February

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Construction on the new Hyatt Place in downtown Florence is inching to completion.

The construction on the Hyatt Place Downtown Florence, a five-story, 103 room property, began in the summer of 2017.

The hotel was developed by SpringBridge Development LLC and will be managed by Raines Hospitality, a locally owned company that manages several hotels in South Carolina and Florence including Hotel Florence downtown.

Brittney Edwards, corporate director for sales and marketing at Raines Hospitality, said the hotel represents a $20 million investment in downtown Florence and creates more than 30 jobs in the market.

Edwards said the company expects to open the downtown hotel in February.

“For Raines Hospitality, it is a very exciting time as we see Hyatt Place Downtown Florence nearing completion with an official opening set for February 2019. As downtown continues to flourish, the Hyatt Place will prove to be a great addition as it will draw new people to the area who are particularly loyal to the brand.”

Edwards said that Raines Hospitality expects to see Hyatt Place excel just as Hotel Florence has in downtown Florence.

“Downtown Florence was the ideal location for Hyatt Place as Raines Hospitality saw a need for additional hotel rooms due to the success of Hotel Florence and growth of the market,” Edwards said. “After much research, we found that it would be a great secondary to Hotel Florence as well as the best fit for those looking to travel downtown. Hyatt Place will draw new business to the area as well as support the businesses already here.”

Grey Raines, owner of Raines Hospitality, said the company has seen great support from the community of Florence.

“Raines Hospitality saw the addition of Hyatt Place as an opportunity to push development into what is a growing and unique market while placing a complimentary hotel to Hotel Florence,” Raines said. “Having the support of community partners and a thriving city center allows all of Florence to continue to flourish.”

In 2018, Edwards said the company added two new brands to its portfolio, opening a Cambria Hotel in Mount Pleasant — the first Cambria in South Carolina — in July and a Hampton Inn & Suites in Columbia nearly a month ago. Raines Hospitality also took over management of a boutique property in Mt. Pleasant, The Inn at I’On & Palmetto House Inn, back in the spring and looks forward to it becoming an “Ascend Collection Member” with Choice Hotels at the end of the month.

Edwards said that Raines Hospitality will add five new properties in the Florence, Charleston and Grenville markets in 2019. In Florence, the company will open the Hyatt Place in February followed by a Comfort Inn & Suites near the Florence Center in the second quarter of the year, according to Edwards.

Additionally, Raines Hospitality will manage the Hyatt Place in Mount Pleasant’s Towne Centre, scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2019 and two Cambria Hotels, which will open in the fourth quarter of 2019 in Greenville and Summerville.

“2018 has been a great year for Raines Hospitality and we have nothing but bigger and better expectations for 2019,” Edwards said.

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TD Bank in Florence gives $30K to help feed needy

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – TD Bank provided funding for up to 150,000 meals to Harvest Hope Food Bank on Thursday afternoon.

The TD Bank Charitable Foundation donated $30,000 to Harvest Hope. According to literature provided by the food bank, one dollar donated can provide up to five meals.

“The food insecurity rate in the Pee Dee is high, and add a natural disaster [Hurricane Florence] on top of that and we have a lot of neighbors in need,” Nicole Echols, donor relations manager for Harvest Hope of the Pee Dee, said in an announcement. “This donation will allow us to continue our mission and help more families across our service area.”

The announcement indicates that the Pee Dee has some of the highest hunger rates in South Carolina, and one in five people suffer from food insecurity, including one in four children.

Echols said that because of the support of organizations such as TD Bank, the food bank is able to continue to serve the state.

“TD is proud to support food banks that are embedded in our communities providing food and resources to people in need,” TD Bank South Carolina Market President David Lominack said. “We are thrilled to partner with organizations like Harvest Hope Food Bank that help to empower our communities and act as an advocate to eliminate food insecurities that many face.”

The donation also supports TD Bank’s commitment to community enrichment through its newly launched Ready Commitment, a platform that encourages inclusivity, economic vitality, environmental well-being and health.

Harvest Hope Food Bank was founded in 1981 by business and faith leaders to provide food for the hungry in the Palmetto State. The food bank currently serves 20 counties in the state from four locations. One of those locations, Harvest Hope of the Pee Dee, is on West Lucas Street near Florence.

From that location, Harvest Hope has served 5,242,828 meals to residents of eight counties. Those eight counties are Florence, Darlington, Dillon, Marlboro, Marion, Chesterfield, Clarendon and Lee.

TD Bank is the United States subsidiary of Toronto-Dominion Bank. The bank currently serves 15 states and Washington, D.C. TD Bank is the seventh-largest bank by total deposits and the eighth largest by total assets under its control. The bank’s charitable foundation was formed in 2002. It has distributed nearly $199 million in donations.

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Junior Leadership Florence Class participates in Social Issues and Community Service Day

The 2018-2019 Junior Leadership Florence Class was busy Thursday morning helping out at Harvest Hope Food Bank during their Social Issues and Community Service Day.

The JLF program is a partnership between The Greater Florence Chamber, The Florence County 4-H and Francis Marion University. The program is similar in nature to the Chamber’s Leadership Florence program, but designed for our Florence County sophomore and junior level high schools students.

Starbucks opens on Pamplico Highway

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – Coffee lovers in Florence have a new place to get a cup of joe.

Florence’s newest Starbucks opened Monday morning in a new shopping plaza across from the main campus of Carolinas Hospital System on Pamplico Highway.

“It’s extremely exciting for me to be open today,” said Jaime Owle, the store manager. “We’re slower than we’d like to be, because we didn’t open on Friday as scheduled.”

Owle added that before coming to the Pamplico Highway store, he served as a store manager of the Five Points Starbucks. He said he trained the manager to take over the store. He also said he wanted the challenge of opening a new store.

Before working at Starbucks, he served as a meat department manager at a Publix.

“I’m super-excited to be here,” Owle said. “I’m super-excited about the location. Once we get going, I know that we’ll really, really generate some business in this location.”

Owle also said that the location was chosen because of the proximity of the hospital as well as the ongoing development in that southeastern area of Florence.

Starbucks was founded in 1971 in Seattle. It expanded from six stores in the Seattle area in the 1980s after being purchased by former manager Howard Schultz. Schultz served as the chief executive officer of Starbucks from 1986-2000 and 2008-2017. The chain now has over 28,000 locations around the world.