Gubernatorial candidate James Smith (in photo with Rotarian Gloria Saeed) says South Carolina needs “smart government” to move forward responsibly and promises to deliver that if he’s elected. Smith, currently a state representative, is running in June’s Democratic primary and was Capital Rotary’s April 18 guest speaker. He addressed three main topics: (1) need for a state energy policy that “drives efficiency” on the part of utilities and promotes solar power – where South Carolina is “15 years behind other states” making progress; (2) supporting and improving public education, which he called a governor’s “number one job” because “education equals jobs” for our work force; and (3) reapportionment of Congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 census, which Smith said offers a chance to remedy “30 years of gerrymandering” that’s led to partisan politics where “party is more important than government of, by and for the people.” Smith, a Columbia native with undergraduate and law degrees from the University of South Carolina, was first elected to the SC House in 1996.
Advocacy for, preservation of and education about the capital city’s unique houses and gardens has been the mission of Historic Columbia since the non-profit organization’s founding in 1961. A milestone will be celebrated in May with the 200th anniversary of construction of the Hampton-Preston Mansion, according to Robin Waites, Historic Columbia’s executive director since 2004. Waites (shown at right in photo with Rotarian Allyson Way Hank) was Capital Rotary’s April 11 guest speaker. She said the historic property’s May reopening follows more than a year’s worth of mansion repairs and restoration of its gardens and grounds. Also featured is a holistic reevaluation and restructuring of the site’s historical interpretation. Waites noted that from the 1820s to the 1870s, the estate grew to be Columbia’s grandest residence under the Hampton and Preston families and the many men, women and children enslaved there. In addition to the mansion, Historic Columbia provides house and garden tours at four other sites downtown, offsite bus and walking tours, and education programs for youth and adults. Waites was the SC State Museum’s chief curator of art before joining Historic Columbia’s staff.
Capital Rotary is awarding scholarships to two college-bound Midlands students following 19 applicant interviews in late March. Club members on the selection committee included (from left in photo) Paul Gillam, Allyson Way Hank and Darren Foy, plus Pete Pillow (not pictured). A $20,000 scholarship – $5,000 annually for four years – is going to C.A. Johnson High School senior Amariyah Ayee, while Ben Lippen School senior Claire Davis is getting a $10,000 scholarship – $5,000 annually for two years. Ayee, second-ranked in her class, plans to attend Claflin University and hopes to become a pediatric surgeon. Davis will seek to major in engineering and plans to use that knowledge to solve clean water problems in third-world countries. Capital Rotary has been supporting higher-education opportunities for local high school students for more than 20 years. The club’s scholarships are based on a combination of academic performance, extracurricular activities and economic need.
Capital Rotary president Blake DuBose congratulates Andy Markl (left), the club’s most recent addition to the ranks of Paul Harris Fellows, signifying a $1,000 contribution to the Rotary Foundation. Paul Harris Fellows receive a special pin, a certificate and a medal to honor their donation. Foundation gifts help fund international programs promoting world understanding and peace. Markl is a Lexington native who operates The Graphics Source, a firm specializing in print, marketing and advertising materials. He joined Capital Rotary in April 2017.
An “understanding gap” affects the problem of homelessness among people 17-24 years of age in the Midlands, according to Stacey Atkinson and Jacquan Riley, guest speakers at Capital Rotary’s April 4 meeting. The pair (shown in photo with Rotarians Perry Lancaster at left and Tony Thompson at right) said there were 130 homeless youth in the area last year. Atkinson, a retired juvenile justice official, said the situation is a housing, economic and education issue but more public awareness could create a “community of care” to seek solutions. “We need leaders willing to serve as mentors and life coaches for these young people,” Atkinson said. “We need leaders who can offer opportunities for these young people to show what they have to offer.” She also noted there’s a need for scholarships to help youth enroll in technical college trades and certificate programs leading to quick, stable employment. Atkinson is graduate of Leadership South Carolina and has been a licensed SC Master Level Social Worker since 1989.
Columbia’s Capital Rotary Club has earned district recognition for its communications efforts in 2017-2018. Pete Pillow (in photo with president Blake DuBose at left and District 7770 Gov. Gary Bradham at right) received a “Service Above Self Award” as Public Image Chair, while the club was a “Public Image Media Award” winner for medium-sized clubs. District 7770 is comprised of 80 clubs and about 5,000 Rotarians in 25 eastern counties of the state. Pillow posts photos and news on the club’s website and Facebook pages, prepares a monthly e-newsletter and issues press releases to local and district media. He is a retired journalist and public information officer who joined Capital Rotary in 2006. In the past 2½ years the club has distributed 170 news releases, had 12,000 website visitors and reached 11,000 people through social media.
Richland County and the City of Columbia need to focus on growing more career jobs, not just adding to the area’s store of hourly-wage work. Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, delivered that message to Capital Rotary at the club’s March 21 meeting. Blackstone (shown talking with Rotarian Ann Elliott) said strong private sector leadership is key in addressing what he called a local economy that “putters along.” As examples, he cited (1) Richland County’s 5% population growth from 2011-2016 – compared to 11% growth in Charleston County and 9% for Greenville County – and (2) Richland’s -2.6% job growth rate during the same period versus 26.2% in Charleston and 8.3% in Greenville. Disincentives for doing business in Richland and Columbia include the highest industrial tax rate in the country and commercial property taxes that are 8th highest in the country, Blackstone said. He said the chamber believes in Columbia’s potential, but the public and private sectors must “move forward together” to meet economic and employment challenges over the next 20 years. Blackstone’s background includes extensive government relations experience at state, local and federal levels. He has a business degree from the College of Charleston and is a graduate of Leadership South Carolina.
Dominion Energy’s proposed $14.6 billion merger with South Carolina’s SCANA Corp. is a remedy for “the largest utility failure in modern history” – that is, the $9 billion loss of the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear power plant. That’s according to Dominion executive Dan Weekley, who told Capital Rotarians March 14 that the Virginia-based company seeks this “friendly acquisition” because it believes the Palmetto State is “on the verge of explosive growth” needing energy reliability. Weekley said merger benefits include (1) a $1.3 billion cash payment to customers – a value of $1,000 for average residential users; (2) additional reductions of up to 7 percent from current electric and gas rates; and (3) a $1.7 billion write-off of existing debt related to the failed nuclear project. Weekley noted that Dominion already has a business presence in the state, citing recent construction of an 1,100-acre, 270,000-panel solar farm in Jasper County. He said Dominion – the sixth-largest producer of solar power in the country – is about 10 times SCANA’s size, with projects equally divided between electricity and natural gas. Weekly joined the company in 2000. He’s a graduate of Marshall University and earned a master’s in business administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Sponsor Allyson Way Hank and president Blake DuBose (right) introduce Alex Serkes as Capital Rotary Club’s newest member. Serkes practices commercial real estate and corporate law in Nexsen Pruet’s Columbia office and graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina Law School. At USC he was research editor for the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, and was an executive board member of the Constitutional Scholar’s Pipeline, a program to mentor middle schoolers interested in attending college and law school. Serkes has a communications degree from East Carolina University, where he was a member of the Student Government Association, the Inter-Fraternity Council and a sportswriter for the campus newspaper. The Salisbury, MD native is a member of the American and Carolina Bar associations and has previous community service with the Metro Charlotte YMCA.
Today’s technology is a strategic asset companies can use to differentiate themselves from the competition, but a business not on board with this philosophy may not survive the future. That’s what Capital Rotarians heard from their March 7 guest speaker, John Eckstrom, Carolina Business Equipment president and CEO. Eckstrom said technology’s marketplace impact includes (1) social media – where two-thirds of the earth’s 3½ billion connected people are on Facebook; (2) Twitter – allowing mobile access to information at up-to-the second speed; (3) cloud computing – that lets users store data elsewhere and retrieve it via the internet from any device; and (4) big data – where companies can analyze their information to look for hidden patterns, correlations, market trends and customer preferences. As these “converging technologies” continue to be applied in the business world, Eckstrom said, “we don’t know where we’re going because we’ve never been there before.” In addition to his career at Carolina Business Equipment since 1994, Eckstrom also serves as president-elect of the Business Technology Association, an organization for office technology dealers nationwide. (ChannelPro Network photo)