Clayton Homes, Vivid Network Solutions win People’s Choice awards at chamber cook-off

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – Clayton Homes and Vivid Network Solutions are the winners of the People’s Choice awards at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Kickin’ Chicken Wings and Chili Cook-off.

The event was held Friday night in downtown Florence.

Clayton Homes won the wing competition.

Vivid Network Solutions won the chili competition.

People who attended the event cast their votes at

In the wings competition, the judges gave the first-place award to University of BBQ. Performance Food Services IFH and Clayton Homes finished second and third, respectively.

In the chili competition, the judges gave the first-place award to Nucor Vulcroft’s Steel Smokin’ team. Duke Energy finished second.

The Nucor Vulcroft team donated its prize money to the family of Florence police Sgt. Terrence Carraway, who was killed on Oct. 3 in the line of duty.

Kickin’ Chicken event draws people to downtown Florence for food, music

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – South Dargan Street was filled with the smells of chicken and chili Friday evening.

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Kickin’ Chicken and Chili Festival was held in the 100 block of South Dargan Street from 5 to 9 p.m. The festival drew residents from Florence and even tourists from Indiana to downtown Florence.

Jim and Kelly Lee were one couple attending the festival, which included music from the band Sideswiped.

Jim said they came because the weather was nice and the festival gave them something to do. Kelly said she had received an email alerting her to the event.

“The organization of the event was very good,” Kelly said.

The festival features a chicken wing cook-off and a chili cook-off. The winners determined by a panel of judges were University of BBQ in the wings cook-off and Nucor Vulcraft in the chili cook-off. People’s choice winners will be announced today.

Jim said his favorite wings were those from Performance Food Service, which finished second.

Dennis and Danielle Hoskins were visiting from Indianapolis and received information about the festival on their phones and decided to attend. They hadn’t eaten yet but were excited to walk around to the various booths set up along Dargan Street.

The chicken wings and the opportunity to have something to do on a Friday night also drew Tawala Milling, Lisa Tention, and Debra Hill to the festival.

Florence firm offers ‘creative way’ to meet companies’ needs

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — K. Hope Creative joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the organization’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

K. Hope Creative is a boutique consulting firm specializing in brand development, marketing and public relations.

Kim Bowman, president and CEO of K. Hope, said she began the firm about a year ago after a successful career in marketing and business development.

“I find a creative way to get where we need to go,” Bowman said. “If a client has a problem with sales, visibility, brand development or whatever it is, we’re going to find a creative way to do just that. I love working with people who need somebody to come in, or an outside objective look, to solve problems through that creative touch and approach.”

Bowman most recently served as the CEO of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics Foundation, where she was responsible for strategic direction, marketing, fundraising, outreach, and recruiting.

She has also held marketing and leadership roles with EdVenture Children’s Museum, Lake Murray Magazine, University of South Carolina, Policy Management Systems Corporation, and AT&T.

K. Hope works with several organizations, including business, education, lifestyle and nonprofit groups. The firm offers marketing, strategy, brand development, public relations, community relations, business development, project management and execution fundraising, campaigns and content, help with new ventures and events, and more.

“I don’t think ‘important’ is a powerful enough word,” Bowman said about the importance of business marketing. “If you can’t get your message out effectively, you’re not in business. It’s something that is done differently with every single different organization.”

For more information or to contact K. Hope Creative, visit or contact it at 803-240-6642 or by email

Leadership Florence participates in October session

The Leadership Florence journey continues, as the class had their October session on Oct. 9, Visual Arts and Media Day.

The 38 member class of 2018-2019 visited Adam’s Outdoor, iHeart Media, Morning News, FMU PAC, Florence Museum and Florence Little Theater.


Florence Chamber hosts annual golf tournament

The Greater Florence Chamber held their annual Fall Golf Classic at Traces Golf Club last Thursday, Oct. 4. The event was sponsored by Raldex Hospitality.

Local community leaders and business friends joined together as more than 100 players enjoyed great food and beverages during a great day on the links. Lunch was served at 11:00 a.m. and golfers hit the tees at 12:10 p.m. Everyone appreciated a course full of food and various hospitality hole vendors.

The first-place winning team was Cradles to Crayons with players Shane Grainger, Joel Oliver, Rick Reed and Bree Kullenburg. The second-place team was HopeHealth made up of Clay Oliver, David Ellis, Jamie Stanley and Noah Mims. Closest to the pin winners were Lisa Lee, Andy Haigler, Tim Bell and Trey Brown. Longest drive was Keith Young.

Florence Junior Leadership students learn about healthcare industry

Even though HIPAA did not allow for many pictures today, our Junior Leadership students learned so much about the healthcare industry on Sept. 28. Special thanks to Carolinas Hospital System and McLeod Regional Medical Center for their hospitality!


Jets have brought more passengers through Florence airport

By: Matthew Christian

FLORENCE, S.C. – The addition of jet service is paying off for the Florence Regional Airport.

In a presentation Monday to the Florence Rotary Club, the airport’s executive director, Connie Anderson, said the airport had seen an increase in the number of people boarding a plane at the airport since jet service was reintroduced on July 4.

“We did see our enplanements go up for the month of July and the month of August – not large, but every number is positive, and I’m running with it,” Anderson said. “So, you’re looking at almost 900 more people flying out of Florence in July and August.”

The data for September is not yet available.

In response to a question from a Rotarian, Anderson also said the airport has seen a reduction in the number of delays and cancellations since Piedmont Air flew its last de Havilland Canada “Dash 8” into the airport on July 4. The airline now flies Embraer E145s between Florence and Charlotte.

Piedmont operates four flights daily from Florence to Charlotte under the banner of American Eagle, a regional airline wholly owned by the American Airlines Group.

Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce President Mike Miller and Anderson both said during the presentation that many of the remaining delays at the airport are caused by issues in Charlotte.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the 10th busiest airport in the United States and the 32nd busiest in the world in terms of passenger traffic.

Miller said that when the planes all try to enter or leave Charlotte at the same time, it creates delays that are felt in Florence.

Anderson also said the airport had discussed the reinstitution of service between Florence and Atlanta with Delta Air Lines. However, she added that the airline was not interested in service to Florence at this time. She also said that no other airlines were currently looking at expanding to Florence.

The airport also is moving toward a more community-oriented approach, according to Anderson. The airport now hosts a book exchange and a new restaurant. The airport also has held a recent kids’ day and hosted a birthday party.

Anderson said the goal is to become the community’s airport and get the youth more interested in the airport.

Fellows in Education gives local leaders a close look at school operations

By: Staff Reports

FLORENCE, S.C. – Through a three-way partnership among Florence One Schools, The School Foundation and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, a program designed for business and community leaders to spend time getting a unique, behind-the-scenes look into schools in Florence One continues in its fourth year.

For 28 participants, the program that is known as Fellows in Education began Tuesday with a visit to Wallace-Gregg Elementary School.

Through May, participants will get firsthand looks at some of the successes and daily challenges that educators face in the classroom.

There also will be an opportunity for interested participants to take part in a “Principal for a Day” exercise where the local leader will spend a portion of a day with a school principal as he or she conducts the duties of running the school.

“We are extremely excited about having members of our business community visiting our schools again this year,” said Richard O’Malley, the superintendent of Florence One Schools. “The commitment on the part of each of these individuals is greatly appreciated. During these visitations, the Fellows in Education will gain knowledge of the many outstanding school initiatives, as well as the needs and the resources in our schools.

“Through their in-depth understanding of these outstanding programs, the needs and resources, we believe that they will be better able to serve as advocates for students in Florence One Schools.”

Organizers say the ultimate goal of the program is to create a cadre of local leaders who will be able to collaborate with policymakers and community members in developing better education policies in the local community.

Seven more sessions will be held on the first or second Tuesday of each month through the month of May at different Florence One schools.


Empowered to Heal joins Florence Chamber, holds ribbon cutting

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Empowered To Heal joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to celebrate its new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Empowered To Heal, at 525 S. Dargan St., is a nonprofit organization that provides recovery care and counseling referrals for adult survivors of child abuse and sexual assault.

Jennifer Robinson, executive director of the organization, said the main focus is to provide resources to those survivors.

“My experience is that I am a survivor,” Robinson said. “I wanted to make sure that people knew that there is life after sexual trauma. I used to work for an agency that provided services for sexual abuse, but what happened was that I didn’t see a lot of follow-up.”

“What happens to a survivor after the meetings, courthouse or the hospital?” Robinson said. “What people don’t realize is that survivorship is a lifetime thing. So, if survivorship is a lifetime thing, then support is lifetime. I wanted to make sure that they received that support.”

Robinson said that after much counsel and talking with her husband, she decided to open the organization in 2014. Since its inception, she said, Empowered To Heal has helped about 25 people and has met with hundreds.

Robinson said the organization offers several programs, including journey planning, helping clients reach their goals through mentoring and support sessions, as well as education and training. The organization is partnered with Stewart Behavioral Health.

“What I tell survivors is that it’s hard to walk this journey alone,” Robinson said. “We try to strongly recommend counseling and finding that someone who can help you with the journey. We want to provide the resources that we can, and the people that we can through volunteers and different businesses, to help anyway possible.”

For more information, visit or contact it at 843-779-5638. The organization also has social media pages for the public to follow.

Robinson said all information received is completely confidential.

“We want to focus on the recovery,” Robinson said. “We want people to know that you have someone to come to that won’t judge, that won’t push you aside and that will always spend their time encouraging you. Our tagline is ‘healing is a journey that begins with you.’ We want people to know that it begins with you, but we are along for the ride.”

SC’s rural-urban divide draws questions in Grassroots Tour in Florence

By: Matthew Christian, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – The divide between urban and rural South Carolina took center stage at the Florence stop of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Grassroots Tour.

During the question-and-answer portion of the tour, Darlington County Economic Development Partnership’s executive director, Frank Willis, had a question for the Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.

“Rural South Carolina is hurting,” Willis said. “It has been hurting for a long time. Does the chamber have any kind of a position?”

Pitts said in response that there were two South Carolinas and that the chamber’s foundation had talked about looking at the issue.

“There is a South Carolina that’s doing pretty well,” Pitts said. “And there’s a South Carolina that’s not doing so well. We do need to look at – the chamber needs to be in the lead in this I think.”

Pitts said the attractiveness of the workforce is the reason that Boeing has a plant in North Charleston next to Charleston International Airport, and Volvo has a plant in Berkeley County. Earlier in that presentation, Pitts said that Dorchester County, which borders Berkeley and Charleston Counties, was the fastest-growing county per capita in the state. He also said that Charleston had surpassed Columbia as the largest city in the state.

“There’s less people obviously in rural South Carolina but there are opportunities that we continue to focus on,” Pitts continued.

Pitts said the state had to do a better job of attracting a different mix of business types. The state, he added, had done a very good job as a plant in the system of an international manufacturer, but wasn’t doing as well at attracting corporate headquarters or research and development facilities.

“The council of state chambers meets twice a year; the rural issue is one we talk about a lot,” Pitts said. “It amazes me that states we don’t think of like New York that say, ‘We’ve got problems in rural New York state.’ ”

Pitts said the rural-urban divide ran across the Midwest of the country and included the Northeast and the South.

“I don’t know the solution but I think we’re looking at how you would bring resources or assets in – expertise in— to help figure out what a solution could be,” Pitts said. “That’s a good question. It’s something that gets talked about. The General Assembly talks about it.”

“We call it lip service,” Willis said in response.

Pitts said the state chamber had also identified the difference in education funding in rural vs. urban South Carolina.

Although many of the poorer, rural counties receive more in per student funding, much of the money is provided by the federal government. The federal government is fairly restrictive in what the money in provides can be used for. The urban counties, however, rely on local taxes, which provide more flexibility in the use of funds.

Pitts also discussed the need for continued infrastructure improvement and tax reform to keep the state competitive in the Southeast.

The grassroots tour stop was sponsored by the Greater Florence and Hartsville Chambers of Commerce and was held Friday morning at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.