COLUMBIA, S.C. — Members of Florence County’s political and business elite gathered Tuesday at the Capital City Club to hear state and local leaders discuss current and future plans for the county.
As chairman of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, Frank J. “Buddy” Brand II served as the luncheon’s master of ceremonies and preached the message of unity and progress for the local level to state level, something he knows plenty about as Florence City Council mayor pro tem.
“It is a ‘we thing’ with the elected officials here in Columbia. It’s a ‘we thing’ with the county council. It’s a ‘we thing’ with the city council,” Brand said. “And we have the ability right now to work together and are working together better than in the last, at least, 10 years that I know of.”
Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield heavily acknowledged the county’s relationship with state Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr., R-Florence, and how that relationship has been beneficial to the advancement of the county.
“Shouldn’t we all dream things that never were in Florence County and ask ‘Why not?’” Schofield said. “It is time to set the bar high. We can achieve it if we work together. Opportunities are unlimited for the person that doesn’t know the word can’t.”
For the most part, the county/state relationship is as picturesque as the view from the Capital City Club, 25 floors above downtown Columbia. But like the cloudy skies on Tuesday, it changes.
The county is nearing its $125 million bond offering to fund capital project sales tax projects that it battled the state over in the state Supreme Court last October to get on the ballot. But new legislative hurdles face the county as it works with legislators to change law that would allow for taxing authority in a new unified fire district.
The ordinances creating that district are awaiting second reading on Thursday, but much of its future depends on legislators.
“The pessimism of the past has been put away,” Schofield said. “A new hope exists in our people. They see things changing in the city of Florence, Lake City and our other communities.”
With $130 million invested in downtown Florence over the past five years, that change is constant Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela said as the city works to redevelop its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re in a period of enormous growth in Florence County and the city of Florence,” Wukela said, later adding, “That growth has been a product of pragmatism, compromise and the unwavering commitment to investment in infrastructure and investment in our future.”
Wukela also said while disagreements happen, it’s the next step that defines the outcome.
“After we disagree, we do so honestly, we do so fairly, we do so with courtesy and we then move forward and achieve our goals together,” Wukela said.
Leatherman told the crowd of 125 people that even after Florence County lost out on the $1 billion investment from carbon fiber manufacturer Toray Industries, an investment he tried to bring to Florence but went to Spartanburg instead, the county continues to move forward.
“They came to me and said ‘This won’t work,' so I said first of all, ‘Any company that’s coming to South Carolina I want in our area,’” Leatherman said. “If our area does not fit you and your needs, I want you in South Carolina.”
Leatherman did reference an upcoming Florence County project, though details are limited. County council will be voting Thursday on a fee in lieu of tax agreement between the county and “Project R” as well as holding an executive session for “contractual matter(s).”
Later in the evening, participants mingled with legislators at the 12th annual reception held at the Columbia Museum of Art.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson and House Speaker Bobby Harrell both gave brief remarks during the luncheon.