FLORENCE, S.C. -- The Greater Florence area continues to experience business growth going into 2019. And it looks as though the region is well positioned to maintain the pace of commerce development in the years beyond.
Glancing back to 2018, the Florence area witnessed the opening of the $16 million, 25,000-square-foot expansion of the Florence Center, which has resulted in a 60 percent increase in bookings. We have seen the openings of many new hotels in the area, including the eight-story Staybridge Suites with 112 rooms near I-95 and the five-story Hyatt Place Hotel in downtown Florence with 103 rooms.
With the hospitality sector growth, we have seen more restaurants opening throughout city, including new downtown eateries. After two years of planning and construction, the new $32 million Florence County Judicial Center opened, as did the new $4.5 million Carolina Bank headquarters in downtown Florence.
The opening of Dillon Inland Port has already had a positive impact on the Pee Dee while it focuses on servicing retail distribution. It is estimated that the port will take five years to reach its planned capacity and economic impact for the region. That is built-in economic opportunity.
As we look forward into the balance of this year, Francis Marion University will be moving forward with multiple projects, including a $5 million medical classroom complex in downtown Florence, a new $2.1 million honors center on campus and the addition of a freshwater ecology center. Consider these efforts an investment in future employees.
Florence-Darlington Technical College and the Southeastern Institute for Manufacturing and Technology Center are delivering on comprehensive and advanced technical education opportunities for area business.
At least three new hotels are scheduled to open this year, with another two being planned. Much of the hospitality development has helped visitor growth. In 2017, there was more than $321 million in tourism spending in Florence County alone. We are sure the 2018 figures will reflect another sizable increase for our county.
We know that many of our existing businesses and manufacturers have been expanding over the past few years. This growth has in turn offered Pee Dee area job seekers good career opportunities. As we have said before, with the recent economic developments, along with our already top-notch hospital and health care services, the astounding arts and entertainment choices, our solid higher education institutions and a more serviceable airport, you have a community that is brimming with optimism and opportunity for the future.
This is a great chance for the chamber to again salute our city and county officials and state representatives that have worked tirelessly to place our region in a positive economic environment. Just as important, we recognize the select individuals and business owners who have chosen to take risks by investing in their community.
The Pee Dee is on a roll, so let’s keep it moving forward as we search for further business, opportunity and growth.