Florence networking event draws attention to development

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Members of Florence County Progress gathered Thursday evening at Seminar Brewing Company for the organization’s Holiday Networking Event.

Florence County Progress, the private-sector arm of Florence County Economic Development Partnership, was created in the early 1980s by business leaders throughout the county to provide support and leadership to the publicly funded economic development program.

Cameron C. Packett, membership relations manager, said the event was a chance for members of Florence County Progress to network during the holiday season.

“Our Holiday Networking Event is a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season with our Florence County Progress members,” Packett said. “Seminar and Pepsi have been great partners for this year’s event. Bringing the business community together is what Florence County Progress is all about.”

Packett said hosting networking events allow business and community leaders to come together for the betterment of Florence County. She said the organization had a successful year and looks forward to 2019.

Florence County Progress will host its annual membership luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 17, at the SiMT building on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

“As we close out the year and turn our attention to 2019 we will continue to focus on our existing industries and attracting new industries to Florence County,” Packett said. “2018 has been a good year and we look forward to building on what’s been done in the new year.”

The event was held at Seminar Brewing, which is at 551 W. Lucas St. Seminar is Florence’s first commercial craft brewery.

Florence County Progress works to recruit new business and industry to the area while helping existing industry expand. For more information or to join the partnership, contact Packett at cpackett@florenceco.org or 843-676-8796.


Pee Dee Tax & Payroll joins chamber, holds ribbon cutting

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Pee Dee Tax & Payroll joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the company’s new chamber membership.

Pee Dee Tax & Payroll, at 3344 W. Palmetto St., was established in 2015 by partners Audrey Jordan and Ryan Miller.

The company offers individual and small-business professional accounting services, tax preparation, up to $6,000 income tax refund advances and full-service payroll options.

Miller said he has known Jordan for more than 19 years and the two worked together in several professional settings before Jordan decided that she’d like to open her own agency. The two partnered to bring the business to Florence a little more than three years ago.

Miller said joining the chamber was a way for the company to take its first steps in being involved in the community.

“Being a part of the Florence community is important,” Miller said. “Joining the chamber is the first step in starting to be involved and it’s a great networking opportunity for us.”

Pee Dee Tax & Payroll is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with extended hours during tax season.

Avon consultant has ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Myreah Eley, of Pass Her Avon, joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate her new chamber membership.

Eley, a beauty consultant, said joining the chamber was important for her getting out in the community.

“I heard about the chamber from a fellow representative in another state and how that one helped them,” Eley said. I want to be involved in the community and I want people to know my name. I really wanted to connect with the city and I think the chamber is a great way to do it.”

Eley said she offers a variety of Avon products including fashion, jewelry, makeup, fragrances, perfume, cologne for men and women, children’s toys, house supplies and more.

“I started off as a regular Avon representative, but now I also am a consultant,” Eley said. “I help people find what they’re looking for and what’s best for them. I also do fundraising and help organizations that way, as well.”

For more information, call her at 727-437-2866 or email at support@passheravon.club. Eley said she also has a Facebook page and has a website at passheravon.club.


TEDx offers new viewpoints at Florence event

By: Shamira McCray

FLORENCE, S.C. – TEDx Evans Street producer Darian Bethea said events such as the one held Thursday are important because it gets people out of their personal bubble and viewpoint and gives them a look through the eyes of others.

Eight performers and speakers presented at TEDx Evans Street on Thursday. The event was held at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology. Topics ranged from jazz music and fake news to cultural mindset and health care.

“You have doctors, you have students,” Bethea said. “Like today, we had bluegrass people and we had cloggers. We had (a) jazz band. All of these people sharing one stage, where in another arena, you might not get all these people in the same building on the same stage.”

Wilson High School student Rebecca Liu spoke Thursday about cultural mindset learning. She said in today’s society, everything is black and white and everyone must choose a side.

“You have to be for this political party or that political party,” Liu said. “Or you have to identify as belonging to one culture or another. There is no gray area. But what if we could compromise? What if we could take the best of both sides rather than having to choose?” Liu was born and raised in Florence. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan.

In America, Liu said, she is seen as Asian. But when she visits her grandparents in Taiwan, she sticks out as American.

“So who am I? Am I Asian or am I American?” Lieu said in her speech Thursday.

For many second-generation immigrants, creating a new cultural paradigm is their change agent.

“In my everyday life, I experience what I consider the best of both worlds,” Liu said. “I take the best of both cultures around me and use it to create my own personalized culture.”

Lake City Mayor Lovith Anderson Jr. was another one of the Pee Dee-area speakers at TEDx Evans Street. He spoke about how Lake City is now recognized on a world stage due to its change and remaining ageless.

Decades ago, Anderson said, Lake City was an agricultural community and grew crops such as tobacco, cotton, soybeans and green beans. In the early 1900s, Lake City was the “green bean capital of the world,” he said. But people began to leave the city as manufacturing and textile plants left.

Anderson even moved away from Lake City. He later returned, as many other are doing, he said. But in other to get more people into the city, Anderson said, people had to look at Lake City and figure out how they could get it back in shape.

“You’ve got to look at some basic things to make that happen,” Anderson said. “One is you need to have a vision. Second is you need to have some resources. Third is you need to have some faith and fourth is its going to take some hard work.”

Through vision and hard work, Lake City has transformed into what USA Today readers voted this year as the best small town cultural scene. Thousands of people from around the world visit Lake City each year for ArtFields, a nine-day art competition and festival. The city offers recreational activities for children, a senior center for senior citizens and Anderson said a new educational center is being built for students.

Other presenters and speakers at Thursday’s TEDx Evans Street included:

>> Capital City Clogging Company

>> Don Kausler Jr. – regional editor of the Morning News

>> Dr. Veeral Oza – advanced endoscopic gastroenterologist

>> Jennifer Ransaw Smith – Personal Elevation architech

>> Southern Bluegrass Band

>> South Carolina State University Jazz Band

Bethea said TEDx Evans Street will be held every year. He said several people apply to perform or speak at TED events.

TEDx is an international platform, Bethea said. Thursday’s event, the video being made from it and the performers and speakers will be watched by millions of people worldwide, he said.


Financing set to build Florence hotel

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Spirides Hospitality Finance Company has arranged a $5 million construction mortgage loan to finance the development of a new Radisson Park Inn in Florence, officials told the Morning News.

The Radisson Park Inn will be a limited-service hotel featuring 60 guest rooms and suites in a three-story interior corridor building situated on 1.5 acres of land, according to an announcement.

The hotel will feature a breakfast area, business center, indoor swimming poll, fitness center, guest laundry room, meeting room, market and vending area. The hotel will be off Interstate 95 at the West Lucas Street (U.S. 52) exit in the Fairfield Festival business and retail development off Mandeville Road and will be less than three miles from Florence city center.

“The city of Florence, South Carolina, which was founded as a railroad hub, today remains vitally linked with the U.S. transportation system by being the midway point between New York City and Miami, Florida on Interstate 95,” said Harry G. Spirides, president of Spirides Hospitality Finance Company. “This geographic fact has led to strong demand for hotel accommodations at Interstate 95’s exits in the metropolitan Florence area. Additionally, Florence’s good interstate access, which also includes Interstate 20, has allowed it to be the home of a QVC Distribution Center, an Otis Elevator manufacturing plant, and a Honda manufacturing plant among numerous other businesses.”

The hotel will be operated by Radisson Hotel Group, which is one of the world’s largest hotel groups with eight distinctive hotel brands and more than 1,400 hotels in operation and under development around the world.

The terms of the financing arranged by Spirides for the new development include a “favorable” interest rate, a 25-year term, an 80 percent loan-to-cost ratio, interest-only monthly mortgage payments for the first 12 months of the loan through the construction period, followed by principal and interest payments based on a 24-year amortization for the remainder of the loan.

The concept of Park Inn by Radisson features all necessary modern hotel services and amenities, a guest service philosophy called “Adding Color to Life” and a cost-effective building design which includes colorful and contemporary interiors.

Based in Tampa, Florida, Spirides Hospitality Finance Company arranges mortgages and loans for hotel owners across the United States for new ground-up construction, acquisition, debt refinancing, renovation, and other types of hotel capital projects. Members of the Spirides family have owned, operated, developed, and advised hotels and restaurants since the 1920s.


Fellows in Education hear plans for new classes at West Florence

By: Lauren Owens

FLORENCE, S.C. – During the Fellows in Education’s visit to West Florence High School, Principal Matt Dowdell shared the school’s plans for implementing more STEM classes and Advanced Placement (AP) courses starting next fall.

“We are trying to give our students the best education that they can get within these four walls,” Dowdell said. “We are trying to teach them how to collaborate, how to be creative and how to problem solve.”

The addition of the classes will allow students to graduate with a STEM or AP Capstone diplomas.

Dowdell, who’s in his first year as principal, said one of his focuses this year is increasing academic rigor, which will create new AP classes, such as government, economics, computer science and psychology, and STEM courses, such as biology, English, geometry and world history.

The additions to the AP program will also give students to take part in research.

In addition to increasing the academic rigor at West Florence, Dowdell said, the administration has begun to take a more hands-on approach with students and build relationships with them, to better support them and teachers.

During the fellows’ visit, they viewed classes across different subjects, including English, journalism and three science-based Project Lead The Way classes, where they got to see students performing lab activities and creating the school newspaper, Knight Life.

Joe Edick, who is a fellow, saw the need for funding the newspaper and decided to offer free printing through his company, M&M Graphics.

“It’s a small price to give,” Edick said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about – giving back.”

Tiffany Straus, the director of community relations at HopeHealth, also volunteered to help through purchasing advertising with the newspaper. Straus said she thinks it is important to invest in the school district.

The next Fellows in Education meeting will take place at Savannah Grove Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 8.


Florence Chamber leader feted at holiday reception

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. – Dozens of business leaders and government officials gathered at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening for the Chairman’s Holiday Reception.

The night was a chance for members of the chamber and other guests to meet the Chamber’s 2018-19 chairwoman, Mindy Taylor.

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said the idea came from Florence City Councilwoman Pat Gibson-Hye Moore.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people through the chamber board,” Miller said. “I know what’s required of the chairperson much of the success of the chamber has been a direct correlation of what Mindy has done. For her to become the chairperson of the chamber this coming year, I was delighted.”

Gibson-Hye Moore said Taylor, who is district manager for government community relations for Duke Energy, had always been a helpful servant in the Florence community.

“I’m really proud to have Mindy Taylor as the chairman for this coming year,” she said. “I often call Mindy in certain decisions and not one time has she turned me away.”

Attendees were able to network and enjoy light refreshments in a “drop-in” setting.

Taylor said she was excited about the progress and future of the chamber of commerce.

“I’m really excited to see everyone here tonight, in particular in support of the chamber of commerce,” Taylor said. “For things going on in the Florence community, the chamber is at the heart of it. I’m just one person who’s part of this team and it’s an honor to be a part of the team.”

Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said that had also been helpful to him during his time in office.

“You find out about people under stress,” Wukela said. “The reality is, you deal with Mindy when you’re stressed. She has done a great job and continues to work in our community.”


El Agave celebrates with ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — El Agave joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the restaurant’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

The owners of Mi Tierra San Jose Restaurant opened El Agave – at 147 W. Evans St. – in September and have since seen increased traffic.

Brenda Perez, who co-owns the restaurant with her family, said joining the chamber allowed the business to be a more involved member of the Florence community.

“It really helps us to be a better member in the community of Florence,” Brenda said. “It also helps us to grow a little bit more, as well.”

Perez’s brother, Jose Jr., said the location was a great spot to put the new restaurant.

“With Florence’s downtown growing, we’ve greatly benefited from being here,” he said. “We’re expecting a lot of traffic and for it to continue to grow.

Brenda said the restaurant’s traffic started to pick up as of late.

“Especially since we got our liquor license, it’s been a lot busier,” Brenda said. “It’s a great spot right here across from Victor’s, and with the new hotel coming up, we’re really pleased with the location.”

The menu at El Agave looks similar to that of Mi Tierra. The restaurant serves tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, chicken, steak, seafood and other authentic Mexican dishes. Brenda said that El Agave serves some special dishes, like fish tacos, that Mi Tierra doesn’t have on its menu.

Both agreed that Molcajete was one of the favorite dishes among customers but said the restaurant has something for everyone.

“We have a big menu,” Brenda said. “You really can’t go wrong with whatever you try.”

“Lots of choices,” Jose Jr. said. “We’ve got a great variety.”

Event fosters ‘culture of giving’ in Pee Dee

FLORENCE, S.C. – Bell chimes could be heard throughout the Waters Building in Florence Tuesday afternoon signifying the many donations being made to Pee Dee nonprofits for Giving Tuesday.

The Eastern Carolina Community Foundation hosted a donation station at the Waters Building where representatives of nearly 50 nonprofits gathered to accept donations and educate the public on the services their organizations provide.

Denise Howard, Giving Tuesday coordinator for the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation, said the overall goal of the event was not necessarily to raise a lot of money but to create a culture of giving in the Pee Dee and get people excited about philanthropy and encourage local nonprofit organizations.

Manna House executive director Daphine Tedder said the current season is the busiest time for the organization to collect donations because after New Year’s, all of the “warm, hearty giving” stops. Tedder was one of several nonprofit representatives in attendance at the Giving Tuesday Pee Dee Donation Station.

Manna House serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday to people who may need a free meal.

“I have to get what I can get during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Tedder said. “This is right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas so it’s a perfect time for me to solicit for more donations to get me through 2019.”

Tuesday, Tedder said she was accepting anything she could get.

“A smile, a volunteer, a check, it all works,” she said.

Donations to Manna House will be used to purchase additional food and repair a faulty air-conditioning system so that people can be warm while they are served breakfast and lunch, Tedder said.

Vital Aging of Williamsburg County Inc. director Robert Welch said it is important for his organization and other Pee Dee nonprofits to showcase their work and how they affect lives.

“We want to thank the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation for all they’ve done in bringing this together and embracing the Giving Tuesday movement to remind folks that it’s very important to remember the work of all these organizations and how they uplift everybody,” Welch said. “Vital Aging is here for senior citizens of Williamsburg County to provide nutritional and other important aging services to help seniors age in place and give them healthy options. That’s what we’re all about.”

Harvest Hope Food Bank donor development director Nicole Echols said she thinks it is important for the community to be aware of all of the nonprofits that are in the Pee Dee and the hard work they do to support the community.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for all the nonprofits to have one place to get together and for the community to be able to come out, find out what we do, how we support the community and financially support us so we can continue the work that we do, especially in the holiday season,” Echols said. “It’s Giving Tuesday. The Pee Dee is a very generous place and we appreciate them.”

Having nearly 50 nonprofit organizations represented in one place was terrific, according to Sherri Bender of Florence, one of the many donors who participated Tuesday. She said she attended a similar event at a different location but the atmosphere wasn’t as comfortable and congenial.

“I’m going to browse everybody,” Bender said. “I have some special ones. I’m with WIP (Women in Philanthropy), I’m a member there. Lighthouse Ministries, I donate there. I just started giving to Pee Dee Thrift Shops, which is really a good cause. And I like the Junebugs. They’re smaller.”

Signature Wealth Strategies donated $500 to the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation during the Giving Tuesday Pee Dee Donation Station event. Scott Mitchell, chief investment officer at Signature Wealth Strategies, said the company has been a supporter of the community foundation since it started, and a lot of the employees are on boards that were represented during Giving Tuesday Pee Dee.

“It’s always been important for us. Part of what we do is to be involved with community organizations,” Mitchell said. “This is a great chance to go see what a lot of those organizations are doing.”

Eastern Carolina Community Foundation Board Chairman Tom Ewart said that without folks like those at Signature Wealth Strategies, Giving Tuesday Pee Dee could not have been possible.

“We’ll use the funds in supporting the nonprofits throughout the Pee Dee area,” Ewart said. “That’s what the community foundation is all about. We’re a vehicle to get funds to those nonprofits.”


Giving Tuesday is here: 50 Pee Dee nonprofits to participate in event

By: Shamira McCray

FLORENCE, S.C. – It’s Giving Tuesday, and nearly 50 Pee Dee nonprofits will be represented today at the Waters Building for the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation’s Giving Tuesday Pee Dee Donation Station event.

From 3 to 7 p.m., people can drop by the Waters Building on Dargan Street in downtown Florence to donate to and learn more about local organizations, plus participate in activities.

The First Reliance Bank cash machine is expected to be one of this year’s most popular activities. The machine will feature $250 from First Reliance Bank for guests to potentially grab and donate.

“They get 10 seconds in there, and they get to grab cash,” said Denise Howard, Giving Tuesday coordinator. “Whatever cash they get, they’re not keeping it, but they get to go donate it to a nonprofit of their choice. So it’ll be small bills, a lot of fake cash, real cash.”

The represented Pee Dee nonprofits will be will be accepting cash donations. Some will also accept tangible goods, including school supplies, dog and cat food, diapers, hygiene items and nonperishable food items.

The Florence Little Theatre is one of the nonprofits that will be accepting more than cash donations.

Jessica C. Larrimore, executive director at the Florence Little Theater, said the nonprofit will also accept costumes and items for props and set decorations. Larrimore said donors can also choose to designate how they want they monetary donations to be used; either for education or general purposes.

“For us, Giving Tuesday is a way to get the community involved, to let them know what we do and that we do need their support, and to get that support from them through monetary donations or physical items they can donate,” Larrimore said.

Participating in Giving Tuesday Pee Dee is also a way for the Florence Little Theatre to raise awareness about the need for the arts, Larrimore said.

“We’re very thankful that they’re (Eastern Carolina Community Foundation) heading that up and creating that event,” Larrimore said.

Donors who visit all represented nonprofits at the Waters Building will be entered into a drawing for $150 to give to the nonprofit organization of their choice.

“The overall goal of the event is to not necessarily raise a ton of money but to create a culture of giving in the Pee Dee and just get people excited about philanthropy and encouraging our local nonprofits,” Howard said.