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.

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Community Foundation joins Florence Chamber, cuts ribbon

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Eastern Carolina Community Foundation joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the foundation’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Sarah Shelley, executive director for the foundation, said the decision to join the chamber will help the organization gain more exposure.

“We felt like we were underexposed in the corporate market,” Shelley said. “Mike Miller, the chamber president, is on our board, and it was just time for us to join the chamber now that we’re 10 years old.”

The Eastern Carolina Community Foundation, at 154 W. Evans St., is the newest community foundation in South Carolina. Shelley said the foundation is a philanthropic organization that works with all seven counties in the Pee Dee.

“We help people, organizations, churches and corporations carry out their philanthropic intent,” Shelley said. “We love to speak to groups, clubs and organizations. That’s a great way to get to know us if you’re interested, as well.”

According to its website, the foundation began to take shape in 2005, when a representative from the Coastal Community Foundation of Charleston was invited to speak to the Florence Rotary Club. Her presentation included a map revealing that nearly all of South Carolina was served by a community foundation — except for the Pee Dee area.

The first audience question was, “Why don’t we have a community foundation in the Pee Dee?” Her response was, “I was going to ask you the same thing. Why don’t you have a community foundation in the Pee Dee?” In 2006, the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation (ECCF) was formed.

Currently, the ECCF is working toward Hurricane Florence relief efforts with the Pee Dee Disaster Relief Fund.

“We would welcome contributions to that fund,” Shelley said. “Four of the seven counties we serve have been declared a federal disaster area, so it is important for us to help them rebuild their quality of life.”

The ECCF is part of a national network of more than 750 community foundations that collectively pump billions into their local economies across the United States. Many of those assets have gone back into the community to help citizens of Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marlboro, Marion, and Williamsburg counties.

For more information or to get involved, follow ECCF on Facebook, visit it at easterncarolinacf.org or contact it at 843-667-1131.

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Brand-design studio holds ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Townsend TM joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the business’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning.

Townsend TM, a business started by Florence native Barry Townsend, is a brand-design studio that brings big-brand experience to organizations of all sizes.

Townsend said the decision to join the chamber was something he wanted to do to get more involved with the community.

“Although the majority of my business is from outside of this market, I do believe that there are some opportunities here, and there’s a need for the services I offer here in the Pee Dee,” Townsend said. “I’m a member of this community, and this is a way for me to be involved.”

In addition to his business, Barry Townsend is the chairman of the Florence One Schools board.

“Beyond just my business, I can make connections that can help with the schools and such,” Townsend said. “As a district, we need to partner with businesses, and this is just one way that I can get involved. For me, it’s just a great all-around benefit.”

Townsend TM works closely with businesses and organizations to help them define or redefine their brand, design logos, websites and more.

Recently, Townsend completed the rebranding of the Florence Center and was involved in the branding efforts of Florence One Schools over the past few months. He has worked with big brands such as Target, Best Buy and Nestle Purina in their brand development and design efforts.

He said he is looking to bring those marketing and branding strategies to small businesses in the Pee Dee while also continuing to work with clientele from all over the nation.

“A lot of people assume that branding is just for the huge corporations, but a lot of the lessons that I’ve learned and rules that they use to create those brands are equally applicable and, in some cases, maybe even more so for a small business,” Townsend said.

“This is something that you can get right here,” Townsend said. “You don’t have to go to Columbia or Charlotte or Atlanta. There’s someone you can work with locally that will give you the same quality of work, and that’s not something you can typically find in a smaller market like this. If people have a need, I hope that they would search me out.”

For more information, visit towsendtm.com.

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Pee Dee State Fair offers ‘something for everyone’

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Pee Dee residents began flooding the Florence Center on Thursday afternoon and into the evening for a chance to be the some of the first people to experience The Greater Pee Dee State Fair & Expo.

Florence Center officials celebrated the opening of the inaugural fair with a brief ceremony and a ribbon cutting that included confetti cannons.

The fair will run every day until Saturday, Sept, 16, opening at 4 p.m. during weekdays and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Paul Beard, general manager of Florence Center, said the staff was excited to see the fair finally kick off.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Beard said. “Our entire staff has already been burning the midnight oil, but it will be worth it. Hubert Bullard [fair manager] and I have run and seen a lot of fairs, and this one is by far the biggest. I’m excited to work with him, and he’s done a fantastic job.”

Admission for the first day was free. For the remainder of the fair, admission is $7 and children two and under get in free, but the Florence Center will have several promotions, including Scrubs Night, 4-H Day at the Fair, Military and First Responders Night, student nights, as well as a Faith & Family Day. Visit florencefair.com for more information and details.

Residents had the chance to experience more than 50 rides and attractions, including the world’s largest portable roller coaster, as well as entertainment shows, games and tasty treats.

“Other than the state fairs in Columbia and Raleigh, this is the biggest fair in all of the Carolinas,” Beard said. “We’ve got something for everyone, young or old. If you’re into thrill rides, we have thrill rides. If you have kids, we have stuff for them. If you like to be entertained, we have plenty of shows and vendors. That’s not even mentioning the all the fun fair food.”

There will be free parking in the lower deck of the Florence Center, but there will also be two overflow parking lots: At G.E. Healthcare across the street at 3001 W. Radio Drive and at the old Winn-Dixie parking at 124 S. Cashua Dr.

Those free parking lots will be available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with trolley and shuttle services running from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on those days. Seniors and ADA drop-off will be available in the lower deck of the Florence Center. For more information on parking, visit florencefair.com/directions.

“A lot of kids growing up have never gotten to experience something like this,” Beard said. “For some, Columbia is a lifetime away. This fair will give families and kids a chance to create memories and have a great time right here in Florence.”

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Fresenius Kidney Care expands in Florence

By:  Matthew Christian, Morning News

Shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dr. John Pittard cut the ribbon to mark the expansion of Fresenius Kidney Care in Florence.

Fresenius Kidney Care has expanded into a new facility that will allow more patients to be cared for individually. It had more clients than it could handle at its previous location.

The new facility is at 1453 Pamplico Highway.

Fresenius Kidney Care trains patients with end-stage kidney failure how to perform dialysis at home except for one visit per month to a kidney center. Dialysis is the process that attempts to replicate the removal of poisons from the human body that the kidneys normally perform. Fresenius Kidney Care offers patients with failed kidneys the opportunity to learn how to perform one of two types of kidney dialysis depending on their needs.

Being able to dialyze at home offers patients with end-stage kidney failure the freedom to continue to live their life.

“It’s tough,” Pittard said. “One of my favorite stories: I was coming back from Wyoming about four years ago, and I went to turn in a car at 4:30 in the morning. There’s a couple, a man and his daughter from Galveston [Texas], because of the flood problems, he has to travel 45 minutes to Houston to dialyze.”

Pittard said the man’s situation was even worse on vacation in Wyoming. In that state, near Jackson Hole, the closest place for him to go was in Idaho, an 85-mile trip across the southern end of the Teton Mountains.

“On top of it, the clinic he was supposed to go to messed up,” Pittard continued. “He didn’t have a spot. His vacation got canceled after four days. Had he been on home dialysis, there would have been no problem. He could have enjoyed his vacation.”

For more information on Fresenius Kidney Care, visit FreseniusKidneyCare.com.

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Active Day of the Pee Dee joins Florence Chamber, snips ribbon to celebrate

By Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Active Day of the Pee Dee joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Wednesday to celebrate the organization’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Active Day of the Pee Dee, at 2120 Enterprise Drive, has been around for more than 18 years and serves disabled adults and seniors through many different services.

Tyra Jefferson, center director for Active Day of the Pee Dee, said the Pee Dee location is one of 13 centers in South Carolina. Nationwide, the organization operates more than 100 centers in 14 states and has been open for more than 20 years.

“We provide respite services and are a community resource for individuals who have Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and special needs,” Jefferson said. “Our members are here for socialization. When they’re come here, they’re able to meet people and it helps with their care, health and living.”

Jefferson said joining the chamber will allow the organization to be more actively involved in the Pee Dee community. She said the organization plans to build and expand within the next few years as it continues to increase its footprint in Florence.

“I’ve seen the chamber do so many things in the community,” Jefferson said. “They do awesome work for community engagement and I think that fits our mission and our vision of where we’re going.”

Active Day cares for more than 7,000 members.

“The members are personal to me,” Jefferson said. “My son is autistic, so I get to come to work and do what I do at home. I’m a caregiver myself, so I get it both ways. I know what it’s like to provide the service and receive the service. I really love the members and our great staff.”

Active Day will be celebrating National Adult Day Health Services Week Sunday, Sept. 16, through Saturday, Sept. 22. The organization has a list of events on its Facebook page and welcomes volunteers.

For more information, contact Active Day at 843-665-1919 or e-mail TJefferson@activeday.com. You can also follow Active Day of the Pee Dee on Facebook or visit ActiveDay.com

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Raldex shows off new corporate quarters in Florence at Business After Hours

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

Raldex Hospitality unveiled its new corporate facilities Thursday evening with a grand-opening and Business After Hours event.

Starting at 5:30 p.m., business and community leaders began arriving at the group’s offices at 780 Woody Jones Blvd. for an evening of fun, food and networking.

Chad Patterson, vice president of Raldex Hospitality Group, said it was exciting to see the business community come out to support Raldex.

“We are so excited to have as many people as we do tonight,” Patterson said. “The Florence community has been great partners with us. We love being a part of it and being able to have this new office right here in the hospitality district. To see the support from the local businesses means a lot.”

The event featured live music, food and drinks as Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce ambassadors and members of the public toured the new facilities, including offices, a warehouse and meeting rooms.

Patterson said the company is invested in the Florence community and looks for ways to take care of its team members, guests and the local community.

The office will provide several services to its team members, including payroll, human resources, corporate sales, upkeep and much more.

Raldex Hospitality owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn and two Hampton Inn & Suites, one near the Florence Center and one on S.C. 52 in Florence.

For more information, visit www3.raldex.com.

Florence Tax Service celebrates grand-opening weekend

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Gloria’s Perfection Tax Services celebrated a grand opening for its new office this past weekend with the hopes of helping the Pee Dee community get the best tax services and consultations as possible.

Gloria’s Perfection Tax Services joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting Friday.

Gloria Jones, a proud graduate of Wilson High School and owner of the business, said she was excited to join the chamber.

“I wanted to get familiar with other areas around the community,” Jones said. “It’s a great way to network and help out with my community. I wanted to be able to encourage black women and small business owners who may be on their own to be successful in their fields.”

The office, at 1509 West Evans Street, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will extend its hours during tax season.

For more information, contact Gloria’s Perfection Tax Services at 843-702-2593.

Hofler Law Firm holds ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine/Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Hofler Law Firm joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon to hold a ribbon cutting.

The Hofler Law Firm, at 183 S. Coit St., Suite C, was founded by Jack Hofler in Florence about a year ago.

Hofler said the law firm serves people in the areas of personal injury and family law.

“I enjoy the opportunity to work directly with the clients,” Hofler said. “I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the people that I interact with on a daily basis.”

Hofler said joining the chamber will help his business establish contacts throughout the Pee Dee area.

“I’m lucky to live in Florence because of the thriving business community we have,” Hofler said. “I think that being a member of the chamber is going to help my business by fostering relationships with other successful businesspeople. I feel lucky to be a part of this group.”

Hofler said he grew up in Florence and, after graduating from Wake Forest University School of Law, he began a clerkship with Circuit Court Judge William H. Seals, Jr. in Marion. He then spent years practicing law with an established defense law firm in Florence before deciding to open his own practice.

Hofler said he couldn’t be in business without his the support of his family.

“I feel very fortunate to have a close family,” Hofler said. “I would not have been able to have the success that I’ve had opening this new law firm had it not been for the support of my family. I want to especially thank my wife Laura Anne. She has been and continues to be one of the people that is really instrumental in helping the business to flourish.”

For more information, visit HoflerLawFirm.com.

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Real estate market showing gains in Pee Dee

Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The real estate market in the Pee Dee is trending upward at the midyear point of 2018.

The market saw increases in new listings and median sales prices for the year to date, as well as a decrease in days on the market.

Keon Aldrich, president of the Pee Dee Realtor Association, said she was excited looking at the overall body of work and statistics thus far in the year.

Pee Dee Real Estate
A look at the real estate statistics for Florence in June and year-to-date in 2018.

“It’s really exciting to see how good the numbers look,” Aldrich said. “We’re really seeing growth, and it’s a great thing for the entire community.”

In June of 2018, new listings for Florence were up 8.9 percent from 2017, and the days on the market decreased from an average of 135 in June 2017 to 106 in June 2018. The inventory of homes for sale was up to 654, as opposed to just 460 in 2017, creating a 42.2 positive percent change.

“Normally you get a lot of agents saying they’re not busy during the summer, but that hasn’t been the case this year,” Aldrich said. “It’s been a busy time for the entire Pee Dee area.”

In Florence, year-to-date numbers show good signs for the future, Aldrich said.

Pee Dee Real Estate
The Florence market saw increases in new listings and median sales prices year-to-date, as well as a decrease in days on the market.

New listings have increased from 870 in 2017 to 895 in 2018. The median sales price has increased from $157,950 to $163,800 and days on the market until sale have dipped from 139 to 120.

Closed sales were down 7.9 percent from 569 in 2017 to 524 in 2018 while percent of list price received remained almost unchanged.

“People out there are seriously considering purchasing homes,” Aldrich said. “People want to buy houses. Though that ‘closed sales’ number is a bit down from last year, that doesn’t really concern me. People are continuing to move to our area, and everything is as good as it has been in quite some time.”

Pee Dee Real Estate
A look at the real estate statistics for Darlington in June and year-to-date in 2018.

In Darlington, new listings are up 4.8 percent from last year. The median sales price has increased from $92,783 in 2017 to $117,200, and the days on the market have decreased from 150 in 2017 to 138 in 2018.

“It speaks to the overall quality of houses we have on the market,” Aldrich said. “People are willing to pay more, and that also speaks to the health of our overall economy.”

Aldrich credited the growth in the Pee Dee to several things, including the downtown development in both Florence and Darlington, as well as the location of the area.

“We’re not a fast community, but we’re just right,” Aldrich said. “People are coming to retire here. I’ve found that a lot of people really like it in Florence, because it is the middle point for a lot of things. Downtown, not just residential, but also the new businesses that are coming to our area have really contributed to the growth.”

Pee Dee Real Estate
In Darlington, new listings are up 4.8 percent from last year. The median sales price has increased from $92,783 in 2017 to $117,200 and the days on the market have decreased from 150 in 2017 to 138 in 2018.

Aldrich said the outlook for the real estate market for the future looks bright and doesn’t see any reason that entire Pee Dee community won’t benefit from the continued growth.

“I think it’s going to continue to get better,” Aldrich said. “I don’t see us going back. I see growth. I love the fact that everything is changing for the better, and it’s just wonderful to see and be a part of.”

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