Chamber ambassadors expect Florence growth

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ambassadors from several organizations and businesses from around the area met Wednesday at Hotel Florence for a luncheon to kick off the 2018 year.

The Chamber announced Zach Hearne of Signature Wealth Strategies as the 2017 Ambassador of the Year.

“It’s humbling to be a part of seeing so much growth in Florence,” Hearne said. “Growing up being a Florence local, Florence wasn’t always what it is today. Just being able to see that growth has been exciting. There’s definitely been some sentimental value for me.”

Hearne, a former Francis Marion University soccer player, said he is excited about a new soccer complex being built on U.S. 76 just off Interstate 95.

“I’m looking forward to another year of strong growth,” Hearne said. “I think the soccer complex will help continue to build our tourism industry.”

Kristin Nesmith, of Adams Outdoor Advertising, finished second and Ellen Cooke, the owner of Freeman’s Bakery, finished third in the standings.

The points for ambassadors are accumulated through attendance at different events put on by the Chamber, hosting events, bringing guests and introducing new members to the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Jay Lavrinc, Director of Membership Relations at the Chamber, said the Chamber has 631 members, and approximately 55 percent of the membership comes from small businesses.

“There are new ones coming in every year,” Lavrinc said. “Over last year, the net gain was around 70 new businesses to join the chamber.”

Membership in the chamber provides opportunities for businesses to grow in the Florence community and network with other business owners to go along with many other benefits.

The Chamber’s mission is “to promote and enhance a favorable business climate and improve the quality of life to make Florence … the best community in which to live and operate a business.”

“I am truly excited about the outlook for 2018,” Lavrinc said. “We are seeing an influx of new and existing business joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. We have a great ambassador group that acts as an extension of the chamber while representing their own businesses in the community. I anticipate we will see major growth continuing in Florence this year.”

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First Reliance completes purchase of Independence National Bank

FLORENCE, S.C. — First Reliance Tuesday announced that it completed the acquisition of Greenville, South Carolina-based Independence National Bank.

The combined company is expected to have approximately $550 million in assets, $370 million in gross loans, $440 million in deposits, 11 banking offices in South Carolina — including a branch in Myrtle Beach expected to open in February — and a loan production office in Winston Salem, N.C.

 The full conversion of the Independence National Bank systems is expected to be completed by March 5.

The acquisition of Independence National Bank expands First Reliance’s presence in the Greenville market and is an integral part of the bank’s broader strategy to expand its footprint in top-tier markets throughout North and South Carolina.

 “This is a transaction about a true local community bank acquiring one of the finest banking franchises remaining in Greenville, South Carolina. We are thrilled to welcome all the associates at Independence to the First Reliance team. As we work through the integration, our commitment to our customers will remain the same — to continue to deliver a superior community banking model of strong relationships and incredible service. We are passionate about our mission to make the lives of our customers better and look forward to sharing our passion and values with the Greenville customers who value the loyal relationship they have with the Independence National Bank team,” said Rick Saunders, President and CEO.

The closing of this transaction comes on the heels of several new significant developments for First Reliance over the past six months, including:

  • Raising $25.1 million of additional capital in September 2017
  • Jack McElveen joining the bank in September 2017 as Chief Credit Officer
  • Kemper Kenan joining the bank as City Executive for Greenville, South Carolina in late 2017
  • David Barksdale joining the bank as President of North Carolina in early 2018
  • Ben Brazell being named as President of South Carolina in early 2018
  • Ron Paige joining the bank as City Executive for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in early 2018

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Florence Center kicks off completion of expansion

By: Brenda Harrison, The News Journal

We’ve watched and maneuvered around the construction at the former Florence Civic Center for the past year and now the work has been completed.

With a new name and new look, The Florence Center showed off its expanded space following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 24 with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

The new addition and renovation adds 25,000 square feet to the facility for a total of 75,000 square feet of flexible space.

The $16 million expansion project began in January 2017. It includes 8,000 sq. ft. of space which can be subdivided into large or small meeting rooms, a junior ballroom, a new 5,000 sq. ft. state-of-the art kitchen, an 8,000 sq. ft. outdoor patio, and a 12,000 sq. ft. pre-function and vendor spaces, along with enhancements to existing spaces.

This expansion extends available services in the conference, wedding, convention and trade show business, said Paul Beard, Director of the Florence Center.

When the venue opened in 1993, he said, it was celebrated as a civic arena with a couple meeting rooms. Now it is a major conference center adjoining a 10,000-seat arena, he noted, before announcing three new events that will be housed at the Florence Center this year.

The Pee Dee State Fair will take place Sept. 6-16, he continued. The South Carolina Bridal Show will be held on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. and the new Jingle Bell Market will take place on Nov. 15.

Beard stressed that no tax dollars were spent on the project. He also noted that the economic impact of the Civic Center was $42 million and that those funds help drive what’s going on downtown as well as in the hospitality district.

“This puts heads in beds every time we have an event,” he commented. With us being located at the intersections of I-20 and I-95, we are literally almost dead center geographically for New York and Miami.”

Nick Hooker, senior marketing manager at the Florence Center said it is exciting to be kicking off the new space in conjunction with the Center’s 25th anniversary. It is time to take the Center to a new level, he said, adding he looks forward to continue growing with Florence. Web Article – Florence Center kicks off completion of expansion

Florence’s Staybridge Suites to open in summer

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Raldex Hospitality is proving it is invested in the Florence area with the construction of a new hotel, the Staybridge Suites at 150 Westpark Drive near the Florence Center.

Raldex Hospitality owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express, the Hilton Garden Inn and two Hampton Inn & Suites in Florence.

Gregg Parsons, president of Raldex, said the plan is for Staybridge Suites to open by midsummer as the team eyes the final few phases of construction.

 “Our whole team is extremely excited,” Parsons said. “This will be the fifth hotel here, and currently we have around 230 team members at the hotels, and all of them are excited about the new one opening.”

With the opening of the new hotel, Parsons said, Raldex Hospitality will have invested $80 million in the Pee Dee area.

“Florence is a great location,” Parsons said. “With access to two interstates and growing industries, there are several different markets to provide hotels. Everything we have is right here in Florence. We have a large investment, and that’s how we want it to be.”

The Staybridge Suites will offer an “extended stay” brand, which is designed for travelers and businesspeople looking for somewhere to stay multiple nights.

The hotel will have 112 rooms and guests can choose a one-bedroom, two-bedroom or studio-style suite, which all come with full kitchens.

The Staybridge Suites also has a 2,600-square-foot meeting space that can be broken into three smaller spaces, which can be used as a large ballroom or for classrooms, business events or banquets.

The hotel offers several amenities, including complimentary breakfast, a business center, fitness center, laundry facilities and an outdoor pool with a fire pit and grill area.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Robin Osborne, general manager of Staybridge Suites. “We’re excited to have the extended-stay brand, and we believe this is going to provide a great service to people coming into our community.”

Osborne said the location of the hotel will be instrumental in driving business.

“This area is where I-20 and I-95 come together,” Osborne said. “It’s a good stopover for anyone traveling through. The Florence area is growing with a lot of new corporate businesses, and this location has a lot of dining options, the rail trail, tennis courts are close by and the new soccer complex is close to being finished.”

The hotel will begin accepting reservations for meetings and events starting in mid-to-late summer.

Chick-fil-A near mall in Florence is expanding

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — For more than five years, the Chick-fil-A drive-thru at Magnolia Mall has been pushing to become a full-service, sit-down restaurant. On Jan. 24, that vision became a reality.

Last week, Chick-fil-A got approval to begin construction on a new 5,000-square-foot restaurant to be built across from the original.

Blake Pate, store owner and operator of the Chick-fil-A at 2705 David H McLeod Blvd., took over the restaurant in June of 2017.

 “We’ve been working hard to make this happen,” Pate said. “It’s been a long time coming and we’re really excited to be able to continue to serve our customers in the capacity that they deserve to be served.”

Blake’s father, David, was the original operator of Chick-fil-A in Florence and retired in May of 2017.

“This was Chick-fil-A’s concept when the drive-thru was built back in the mid-1990s,” Pate said. “Chick-fil-A was growing, but not at the capacity that we are now. Dad, who had a location inside the mall, saw that there was a spot available and they moved on it. This really was originally built as a way to meet people’s needs outside of the mall to basically make it as fast and as convenient as possible.”

Pate said a lot has changed in the past two decades.

“Over time, Chick-fil-A’s mindset has evolved,” Pate said. “The service model we have today, we want to take care of people the best we can. I think most people understand that this building has kind of been outgrown. The idea has been to get out of this location, which is only about 1,500 square feet, and into a location that better serves our customers in a way that they’ve been accustomed to by being able to talk to guests and deliver meals.”

Chick-fil-A will remain open during the construction of the new building in February, March and part of April. The plan is for the drive-thru to close in April, as it is bulldozed to make way for a parking lot.

Pate said the current projection is for the new restaurant to reopen in June.

“Any time you put dates on it, people automatically assume,” Pate said. “It’s all subject to change depending on the weather and that’s the major hurdle for us. We’d like to get it done by then, but there can be some obstacles. We will keep people up to date on our social media accounts and do our best to relay information.”

Pate said the location for the Chick-fil-A next to Magnolia Mall and across the road from the Florence Center has been instrumental in the success of the restaurant.

 The Chick-fil-A is the only one in South Carolina located off I-95. The closest north is at Lumberton, North Carolina, and the closest south is at Savannah, Georgia.

Pate said the interstate also has been a factor in keeping the restaurant where it is as opposed to moving to a different location in Florence or the Pee Dee area.

“I think Chick-fil-A recognizes that this part of town is still growing,” Pate said. “Being right off the interstate is a major boon for us. Because of Florence’s location, we’re the halfway point for a lot of places. We’ve been here for a long time and we look forward to being here for a much longer time.”

Pate said he is excited for many groups of people to get to experience the new restaurant, including his employees, the customers and his father.

“He didn’t have the opportunity to have a “regular-type Chick-fil-A,” Pate said. “For him to finally be able to see it happen is amazing. I’m very excited for our employees, as well. Working in a drive-thru only restaurant is quite a challenge. We want to be able to provide the best service and that makes me excited for our customers. It’s something that’s going to be beneficial for all parties.”

For more information and updates, follow Chick-fil-A at Magnolia Mall’s Facebook page.

SCNow Web Article – Chick-fil-A near mall in Florence is expanding

Future Entrepreneurs Foundation cuts ribbon in Effingham

By:Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

EFFINGHAM, S.C. — Nanaefua Eshun believes investing in the lives of youth today will result in stronger and better leadership tomorrow.

Eshun, the president and chief executive officer of Future Entrepreneurs Foundation, joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting for the organization on Tuesday at Savannah Grove Baptist Church in Effingham.

Eshun said the Future Entrepreneurs Foundation was started with the goal of helping teenagers become better businessmen and women.

 “I’m very proud to be a part of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce,” Eshun said. “I’m excited to be a part of a community that exemplifies diversity first and entrepreneurship, and I love how they promote those things within our community.”

The organization provides opportunities for students to have one-on-one mentorships, chances to ask questions to business professionals and be involved in the community through service.

“I work with students within the Florence school district, and we help them hone skills and gain resources in the field of entrepreneurship,” Eshun said. “I believe our youth are our future leaders, and it’s up to us to empower them and invest in their future.”

Eshun said the foundation will hold a fundraiser on Sept. 21 at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology Center on the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus.

Celebrity Christopher Gardner and Florence City Councilwoman Teresa Myers Ervin will be the speakers for the night. Gardner was portrayed by actor Will Smith in the movie “Pursuit of Happyness” in 2006.

“The fundraiser will go toward educational field trips for the kids,” Eshun said. “This will give us the opportunity to help the youth even more to fulfill their dreams and become the best leaders they can be within the community.”

Eshun said being involved in the growing process and seeing youth succeed is what makes it all worthwhile.

“Whatever vision they have, they have can achieve it,” Eshun said. “I can be right there beside them, coaching them and getting them to focus on their future. We want to give them all the resources that we can to help them succeed. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child.”

For more information, visit To contact the foundation, email or call 800-913-8261.

SCNow Web Article – Future Entrepreneurs Foundation cuts ribbon in Effingham

FMU students honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By: Patrick Lloyd

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – Students at Francis Marion University in Florence gathered Thursday night to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This was the 20th annual event honoring the late civil rights leader’s life. FMU teams up with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce every year to put the event on.

A candlelight walk started the night. A celebration of the arts followed. A dance crew and gospel choir performed. A student also performed spoken word. The key note speaker was Florence City Councilwoman Teresa Myers-Ervin.

Les Echols with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce says it’s important to do this event every year to keep younger people aware of what Dr. King did for so many people.

“Of course that was Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy – diversity and inclusion,” Les Echols said. “It’s very important that the current generation as well as future generations know the legacy that he left so that we can carry on that legacy.”

Echols also says with the racial tension going on lately, it’s good to do stuff like this.

“I think something like this is vital right now,” Echols said. “We’re in an environment where diversity and inclusion is being looked at with a very close eye. So we have to be mindful of the things Dr. King fought for. He fought for the right thing to do. He didn’t fight for his opinion. He fought for the right thing to do, so it’s very important that we be mindful of that.”

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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Greater Pee Dee Realtor Association holds ribbon cutting

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Greater Pee Dee Realtor Association’s motto for 2018 is “it’s a new day.”

The association kicked off the new year by joining ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting on Wednesday morning.

Keon Jordan-Aldrich, president of the realtor association at 1375 Celebration Blvd, said joining the chamber is something the association needed to do.

“Today is a great day for real estate,” Jordan-Aldrich said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we are very excited to join the chamber. We’re making sure that we stay in the community and that we continue to have our voice for the community, which is a great thing to be a part of.”

Jordan-Aldrich was elected the 2018 association president by her colleagues, and she said she is looking forward to seeing what the new year holds.

“I’ve been an agent for about 16 years,” Jordan-Aldrich said. “I just enjoy being able to meet new people and make their dream a reality. Now that I’m board president, I enjoy being able to help make the decisions and hopefully assist in taking our association to another level.”

Jennifer King, the chief executive officer of the Greater Pee Dee Realtor Association, said the partnership with the chamber will enable the association to continue to service the community.

“We are glad to be a part of the chamber,” King said. “We are excited to be able to support our community. We are the Greater Pee Dee Realtor Association and they are the Greater Florence Chamber. We both believe in bringing growth to the area, so I think it’s a great fit.”

The association helps link realtors together, provides education and looks to give back in the community.

“We are a trade association for all realtor members in the nine-county area of the Pee Dee region,” King said. “Anyone who is a licensed realtor can be part of the association, and that means the buyer and seller will be dealing with some who abides by our code of ethics and standards. We run the MLS service, which shows all current listings, and put on several community events, as well.”

For King, the realtor association has given her a chance to work with new people and meet realtors from across the Pee Dee region.

“I don’t come out of the real estate world,” King said. “My favorite thing is working with all the people. Everyone is really nice and passionate about what they do. It’s a lot of fun getting to work with people from all corners of the Pee Dee and watching them work with others to achieve their dream of homeownership.”

SCNow Web Article – Greater Pee Dee Realtor Association holds ribbon cutting

Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School cuts ribbon for a new building

By: Rebecca Cross

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Construction is complete for a new academic building and dining hall at Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School.

Representatives from the school’s board of trustees, First Reliance Bank, Hunter Builders and Munnerlyn Architects participated in a ribbon cutting on Wednesday evening at the school.

Dr. William Naso, chairman of the Trinity-Byrnes Board of Trustees, said it is an exciting time to be a part of the school.

“We are the fastest growing independent school in the Pee Dee region,” Naso said.

The school has 273 students.

“We’re really busting at the seams, and that’s why we’re here today,” Naso said.

Students are from throughout the region. Naso listed Hartsville, Darlington, Florence, Lamar and Cheraw as cities that students are from.

“We have built a school that is second to none in this region,” Naso said.

The 12,000-square-foot building features seven classrooms, two seminar rooms and one multipurpose room to also be used as a dining hall. Two of the seven classrooms are science labs. The building is designed to support advanced math and science teaching and technology for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

A reception was held in the new building after the ribbon cutting, and attendees toured the building.

SCNow Web Article – Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School cuts ribbon for a new building