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)
Today’s students today have a greater capacity for learning and applying what they know to real world issues than ever before, according to Lexington/Richland District Five school superintendent Dr. Stephen W. Hefner. But public education’s challenges include solving a persistent teacher shortage and helping families with social/emotional issues that cause stress, anxiety and depression. Hefner (seen speaking to Capital Rotarians as club member Bryan Goodyear looks on) led Richland District Two for 16 years before joining District Five in 2011. During his career he’s seen school responsibilities expand in (1) serving needs of special education students; (2) fielding, equipping and coaching over 150 athletic teams; (3) offering full-day and four-year-old kindergarten; (4) building and maintaining facilities; (5) providing nursing services for a daily average of more than 600 students; (6) meeting breakfast, lunch and afterschool nutritional needs; (7) communicating with a diverse population where English is a second language for nearly 800 students; (8) technology becoming essential for teaching, learning and assessment; (9) ensuring safety with school resource officers and 360 practice drills scheduled yearly; and (10) dealing with a “generational change” in employee and family attitudes that focus primarily on lifestyle.
Capital Rotary members put in a solid hour of community service Feb. 21 when they volunteered at Harvest Hope Food Bank’s Shop Road headquarters in Columbia. Rotarians sorted and stocked 1,363 pounds of bakery items; bagged 611 pounds of snacks and 1,714 pounds of produce; and bagged and stocked 443 pounds of dairy goods – all destined for the Emergency Food Pantry. Harvest Hope, begun in 1981, works to meet the needs of hungry people in 20 counties in the Midlands, Pee Dee and Greater Greenville regions of South Carolina. Food Bank executive director Denise Holland is a Capital Rotary member. In photo, club members on work detail are (from left) Ione Cockrell, Trey Boone, Frank Rutkowski, Ben Carlton and Ann Elliott.
As Congaree Riverkeeper for the last six years, Bill Stangler works in the Midlands to protect the environmental quality of three different rivers and their tributaries because “water is a common good,” as he explained at Capital Rotary’s Feb. 14 meeting. Stangler (pictured with Rotarian Ann Elliott) is a former outdoors guide who studied ecology and river science at the University of South Carolina. He now monitors water, wildlife habitat and recreation conditions on the Congaree, Lower Saluda and Lower Broad Rivers – including 90 miles of river, 2,000 miles of streams and five different counties in the watershed. Stangler said preserving “our rights to our rivers” involves (1) outreach and education about issues facing rivers; (2) advocacy work and voluntary cleanups, plus water quality sampling; and (3) suing to enforce environmental laws when regulatory agencies fail to do the job. Congaree Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization, one of six in South Carolina affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect rivers and coasts all over the world. One of Rotary International’s areas of focus is support for local solutions to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to more people every day.
At a mid-year assembly to review Capital Rotary’s accomplishments to date in the 2017-2018 Rotary year, president Blake DuBose thanked members for achieving highlights that included:
- Attaining a current membership level of 61 Rotarians; plans are under way to create a new online proposed member application form plus an online explanation of membership responsibilities.
- Donating 936 free dictionaries to third-graders in 14 Richland County District One schools.
- Collecting 65 units of blood at the annual Red Cross Blood Drive, each donation helping to save the lives of up to three people.
- Making a $1,000 donation for Harvest Hope Food Bank’s “Back Pack” and “Kids Café” programs to feed hungry children.
- Supporting domestic and overseas relief efforts with a total of $8,000 in donations for natural disaster victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
- Taking part in the World Polio Week international campaign to eradicate polio. The club raised $882, matched by Rotary District 7770 for a total donation of $1,764
- Assisting three local college students with scholarships that will total $5,000 per year each.
- Sponsoring two families through the Families Helping Families organization. Members contributed $625, then matched by the club, for a total donation of $1,250 used to purchase Christmas wish-list items such as clothing, toys, personal items, food and furniture.
- Continuing community service projects with weekly Meals on Wheels delivery and annual volunteering at Harvest Hope Food Bank.
- Supporting The Rotary Foundation with 55 Paul Harris Fellows ($1,000 donation), 40 Benefactors ($1,000 donation via will), four Bequest Society members ($10,000 donation upon death), six Major Donors (donation greater than $10,000) and eight Paul Harris Society members ($1,000 donation yearly).
- Exceeding the club goal ($1,680) for PolioPlus contributions (total $2,38 to date).
- Publicizing our activities with 45 club website and social media posts; reaching 6,181 people through social media; 2,262 website visitors; 40 postings on District 7770’s website and newsletters; 59 press releases posted by local media; and seven monthly club activity recaps e-mailed to members.
Addressing South Carolina’s information technology “talent gap” is the mission of IT-ology, a Columbia-based nonprofit working to attract, retain and educate citizens about the IT profession. Capital Rotarians were briefed on those efforts during a Fifth Wednesday meeting with IT-ology staffers (from left in photo Lauren Wells, Kristy McLean and Bonnie Kelly). The Palmetto State has (1) a limited pool of trained, experienced potential IT employees; (2) an insufficient number of students in IT classes; (3) women and minorities underrepresented in the profession; (4) a high demand for more cybersecurity professionals; (5) a need for a statewide culture that encourages innovators and entrepreneurs; and (6) a need for workers with more “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and negotiation. IT-ology says the key to answering these needs includes more pre-K-12th grade programs, expanded technical college outreach, teacher professional development and IT career development seminars. Capital Rotary’s Fifth Wednesday program substitutes local field trips to sites like IT-ology in place of a regular club meeting.
Homeschooling is a good option for parents seeking one-to-one, individualized learning opportunities for their children. That’s what Capital Rotarians heard when Beth Martin – high school director for the South Carolina Association of Independent Homeschools – spoke at the club’s Jan. 24 meeting. Martin is a former public middle school teacher who homeschooled her own three children. She said the state association – a nonprofit founded in 1990 – works to ensure accountability for some 22,000 to 33,000 homeschoolers across South Carolina. That includes assistance with curriculum, counseling and class schedules; meeting test requirements; maintaining transcripts and issuing diplomas; providing for special needs students; and college/career planning. Martin said homeschooling can offer young people a superior education – aligned to their own specific needs, learning styles, personalities and interests – at less cost than a private or public school setting. (SC Assn of Independent Home Schools photo)