Senior environmental attorney Tom Mullikin of Camden – chair of the Governor’s Floodwater Commission – is leading efforts to help defend South Carolina from the effects of a warming planet. The job includes dealing with rising sea levels, persistent flooding and severe storms coming in from the Atlantic and up from the Gulf Coast, as he explained to Capital Rotarians during their Sept. 23 Zoom meeting. Mullikin (in photo) said debate over climate change has been “hijacked by politics” that breed division, but the Floodwater Commission wants to “occupy the middle ground” via emphasis on solving environmental challenges. Plans have been made to plant 1.8 million trees throughout the state on Earth Day 2021 as an example of local, positive action. “We in South Carolina can’t solve the world’s problems,” Mullikin said. “What we’re going to have to do is solve ours.” Floodwater Commission solutions range from planting more shoreline vegetation to constructing natural and artificial reefs along the coast; from cleaning canals, ditches and rivers to replacing fossil fuel power plants with utility-scale solar. “We’re in the process now of helping to create an electric highway, because BMW and Volvo are making South Carolina manufacturing one of the global leaders in e-vehicles,” Mullikin said, touting moves toward reducing the state’s greenhouse gases footprint. “‘Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive,” he added. “We can be more protective of the environmental and more profitable.” Mullikin graduated from the University of South Carolina with a law degree in 1986. The retired leader of the volunteer South Carolina State Guard, he’s also a “National Geographic Expert” and a Fellow in both the Manhattan-based Explorer’s Club and London’s Royal Geographical Society.
Columbia’s greenway parks trace their heritage back to a 1905 beautification plan and still provide scenic vistas for hospitality, outreach, education and recreation. That’s according to Karen Kustafik (shown in LinkedIn photo), assistant superintendent of the city’s 31 Park Rangers and Capital Rotary’s Sept. 9 guest speaker. The Rangers oversee eight parks that have opened since 1983 and are looking forward to adding new facilities in the Bull Street area (2020) and a Saluda Riverwalk and Boyd Island bird sanctuary (2021). Riverfront parks recall a bygone era when waterways were key for commerce, moving produce and raw goods from the Upstate and Midlands down to Charleston and back. Today, Kustafik said, parks remain “really good things to have in flood plains because rivers will rise. In a changing climate, rivers seem to rise a little bit more frequently, so the banks of green spaces along waterways help keep us more resilient.” Insect life thrives in wild places, becoming what Kustafik called “building blocks for the rest of life – these insects are critically important” in the natural food chain and as pollinators for plant reproduction. She also praised the sense of quiet reflection that parks provide. “Yes, we live in an urban area, but if you get a good 10- or 15-minute walk in, you can find solitude and a place to reflect,” Kustafik observed. “We have some gorgeous spots where everybody can find peace.” This has been true even during the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted, when local parks remained busy in March and April despite being officially shut down.
Agriculture in South Carolina is big business – a $46.2 billion economic impact, 247,000 jobs and over 24,000 farms – but there’s still room to grow (no pun intended). That’s what Capital Rotarians heard Aug. 26 from guest speaker Jack Shuler (in photo from SCNOW), director of agribusiness development for the Palmetto State. Crops and poultry make up about 55% of farming’s impact, with 45% coming from forestry operations. The equine industry, including areas around Camden, Aiken and near Tryon, NC, gives nearly a $2 billion per year boost. Trade wars hurt farmers over the past two years, Shuler said, and the COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains, moved markets from an institutional base (restaurants/food processors) to consumer based (more cooking and eating at home), plus poses labor problems (especially among migrant workers). Still, Shuler sees a promising future for South Carolina farming, forecasting billions more in economic impact by 2035. Advances in technology and robotics (such as driverless tractors and harvesters) offer a labor solution, but require more technical skills and worker training in rural areas. Controlled environments like greenhouses and aquaculture may reduce dependence on weather conditions. Shuler said locating another poultry facility in the state is feasible and would be “a huge economic engine” for any rural county, bringing an additional 1,200 jobs. “A lot of our fresh food now is trucked from California and Mexico,” Shuler said. “We need to look at how we can bring those types of crops to be grown, marketed and processed in South Carolina.” The state’s East Coast location – halfway between Virginia and Florida – makes it ideal for food preparation and shipping within a day. Shuler retired in 2011 and joined the SC Agriculture Department staff after a 38-year career in farm credit operations. A Clemson University graduate, he also has a Master’s Degree in Business and completed the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.
The coronavirus impact on South Carolina’s economic development is a mixed bag of good news, bad news and future unknowns, according to Megan Anderson (in photo), a global business project manager for Maxis Advisors and Capital Rotary’s Aug. 12 guest speaker. Despite the disease, Anderson says business prognosticators are “fairly positive” about job growth, increased capital and additional investment by both foreign and domestic firms. Good news includes: (1) companies aren’t “timid or worried” about the “new normal” of living with COVID-19; (2) firms have done their preliminary work and are ready to “pull the trigger whenever they feel it’s a safe time” for “rapid release of investment”; (3) emerging markets are likely in fields such as personal protective equipment and sanitation products; (4) pandemic-related job losses could be offset by these new industries’ need for workers; and (5) South Carolina has an inventory of available buildings and land for business sites. Bad news incudes: (1) stress caused by tax breaks or financial incentives tied to performance measures that companies now can’t meet; (2) a negative overseas perception of Americans as people who “can’t follow the rules” for face masks and social distancing; and (3) worries about worker safety and managing staff furloughs. Unknown economic factors include: (1) how working remotely will impact the need for and cost-effectiveness of buildings/offices; and (2) the future sustainability of new technologies and “the COVID-19 lifestyle” caused by the pandemic’s duration. Before joining Maxis Advisors, Anderson was a manager at the SC Department of Commerce. She has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in international business from the University of South Carolina.
The South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance has been working during the COVID-19 pandemic to help Palmetto State industries navigate issues including worker safety, lack of child care, supply chain interruptions, unemployment and a thicket of local, state and federal health/behavior guidelines and mandates. That’s according to John Wall (in photo), guest speaker for Capital Rotary’s July 29 Zoom meeting. He’s vice president of government relations and general counsel for the group that represents 400 manufacturing facilities and 880,000 employees. Wall noted that manufacturers have been proud to “fill in the gaps” by supplying personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, gowns and masks to combat the coronavirus. They also “stepped up in a big way lead the charge for contact tracing in the workplace,” Wall said. While COVID-19 is today’s chief concern, Wall noted one of industry’s future legislative goals is business license tax reform setting a standard filing date, application form, appeals process, rate and class schedule and a portal for online access. Education reform is another goal, aiming to ensure that students “have the skills they need to fill these great-paying jobs here in our state.” Wall believes South Carolina’s future includes more investment by food marketing and processing businesses, growth in “life sciences” like pharmaceutical manufacturing, and growth in warehouse/distribution facilities. Wall is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. He joined the Manufacturers Alliance in 2018.
Service clubs like Rotary face challenging times because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, but need to strengthen their membership, put ideas into action and improve local communities – all reflected in 2020-2021’s international theme, “Rotary Opens Opportunities.” That’s the message Capital Rotarians heard from assistant governor Eric Davis (in photo) at July 15’s Zoom meeting. Davis noted that the pandemic has curtailed in-person gatherings and scrapped numerous club and district projects. He said that virtual meetings – even remote “happy hours” or small group online socials – can help Rotarians stay in touch. “We need to be flexible and innovative in keeping every member engaged,” Davis said. “Reaching out one-to-one is the way to strengthen our bond.” Despite the pandemic’s effect, clubs can still take part in district committees, apply for grants to fund global projects or sponsor applicants for international scholarships. It’s also possible to virtually sample other club and district meetings. Davis, a member of Vista Night Rotary, has a year left to serve as Area 2 assistant governor in District 7770. Area 2 encompasses six Midlands clubs, plus the University of South Carolina’s Interact group for young adults and an EarlyAct club for youngsters at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Columbia.
The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed blood drives across the Midlands, but the need for lifesaving donations remains critical, according to Kristen Boyle, a donor recruitment representative for the American Red Cross. Boyle was guest speaker at Capital Rotary’s biweekly meeting via Zoom on July 1. Closed colleges and businesses shrank student and employee donor pools in the spring, Boyle noted, plus a number of churches and civic groups (including the Rotary club) cancelled planned drives. Meanwhile, demand is up as much as 30 per cent while hospitals are beginning to reschedule elective surgeries. The Red Cross has safety steps in place, Boyle said, including mandatory face masks, temperature checks, gloves, rigorous sanitizing and social distancing at donor sites. Blood is now being tested for coronavirus antibodies; results are anticipated in 7 to 10 days. A positive test means the donor has previous virus exposure, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t use the blood,” Boyle explained. “COVID-19, or any respiratory illness, isn’t transfused through blood donations. Having antibodies means you can apply to the convalescent plasma program and potentially help a patient who’s battling a severe case of COVID.” Since the country has a blood need every two seconds – and every donation can help save up to three lives – Boyle declared: “Giving blood is an essential service.”
Columbia’s Capital Rotary began its 2020-2021 year July 1 by inducting a new president, saluting the Rotarian of the Year and announcing Paul Harris Fellow honors in a biweekly Zoom session. Capital’s new president is Ben Carlton (in photo), a member since 2015, who practices corporate law with the Columbia firm of Richardson, Plowden & Robinson. Carlton is a graduate of North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina’s Law School. He was a club director and secretary before serving as president-elect in the past year. Earning Rotarian of the Year honors for the second time was Neda Beal (at left in photo below with Sophia Bertrand of the University of South Carolina’s Rotaract Club). Beal – cited in 2016 for her work with several projects – was recognized anew for serving as liaison to the student group. Rotaract clubs are for adults ages 18-30 interested in community service, in developing leadership and professional skills, and who enjoy networking and social activities. USC Rotaract formed in 2010-2011; Capital Rotary became its host in 2018-2019. New Rotary Foundation donor honors went to Jack Williamson, Philip Flynn and Pete Pillow – all named Paul Harris Fellow Plus-Two givers (signifying an initial $1,000 donation with an additional gift in the same amount). The Foundation is Rotary International’s charitable arm to support world understanding and peace programs. Williamson, a former sergeant at arms, joined Capital Rotary in 2008, as did Flynn, a past president and current director. Pillow joined in 2006 and was Rotarian of the Year in 2018. The club is holding remote meetings currently in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
University of South Carolina president Bob Caslen updated Capital Rotarians on a host of items June 17 at the downtown club’s biweekly Zoom meeting. Topics ranged from possibly renaming iconic buildings to resuming fall classes on campus, and from football season prospects to strategic planning for the future. Caslen (in photo), a retired Army general who’s a graduate and former superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, became USC’s 29th president last Aug. 1. He told Rotarians that: (1) renaming Sims Hall on campus – a building named for a man who performed medical experiments on slaves – has been reviewed by a special committee, but the state’s Heritage Act requires a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly for such changes; (2) resuming onsite classes is based on mitigating health risks through COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, social distancing, wearing masks in class and “responsible measures” to avoid disease spread to the community at large; (3) the slate of Southeastern Conference football games likely will be played, but non-conference games may be decided on an individual team basis, and social distancing will impact stadium seating; and (4) USC’s strategic vision is to become the nation’s premier flagship university, serving the needs and transforming the lives of the people of South Carolina. Caslen said he and his executive team will work to recruit the best students, employ world-class faculty and staff, boost the school’s research status, improve systemwide integration of programs and campus infrastructure, and prioritize economic development.
Capital Rotary announced new Paul Harris Fellow honors and elected its slate of 2020-2021 officers and directors during a Zoom meeting on June 16. Neda Beal (in photo) was cited for her continuing donations to the Rotary Foundation in support of world understanding and peace programs. She is now a Paul Harris Fellow Plus-Six giver (signifying an initial $1,000 donation with six additional gifts at the same amount). Paul Harris Fellow recognition memorializes the Chicago attorney who helped found Rotary International in 1905. A Capital board member for several years, Beal was named club Rotarian of the Year in 2016.
New club officers and directors are: President – Ben Carlton; President-Elect – Austin McVay; Secretary, Membership – Lee Ann Watson; Treasurer – Bryan Goodyear; Sergeant at Arms – Andy Markl; Immediate Past President – Abby Naas (Foundation); Directors at Large – Catherine Mabry (Community Service); Neda Beal (Rotaract); Le Frye (Blood Donations); Philip Flynn (past president); and Ione Cockrell. Terms of office are July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2921.