November 2017 Partner of the Month: Aspire4More


Aspire4More Productions has been selected as the Columbia Chamber’s November Partner of the Month for their incredible collaboration and support to the Chamber for nearly a decade.  Aspire4More is a true team member of the Columbia Chamber each year in producing the Annual Gala, providing full AV production services, and always exceeding expectations by providing stage and lighting customization to give each event a unique atmosphere.

According to Tony Sharpe, Owner of Aspire4More, their customers are always priority #1. “As an AV provider, we strive to take our clients to the next level by aspiring to provide more than just the average set up.  By doing this we have gained a reputation of going the extra mile.  We don’t want to be just another AV provider, but rather provide a service that builds relationships with our clients that last.”

Aspire4More Productions has been in business for 19 years serving numerous Partners in the midlands including the South Carolina Hospital Association, the USO, Palmetto Health, Palmetto Health Foundation, and the University of South Carolina just to name a few.  For 10 years, Tony and his team have supported the Columbia Chamber for our Annual Gala which is now considered one of the best in the region with nearly 1,000 attendees every year.

The best way to contact Aspire4More is by phone at 803-429-2503 or email at  To learn more about Aspire4More and to see photos of their work, visit their facebook page.

Spotlight Article: Director of Events, Rebekah Babovic

Rebekah Babovic Crop

Short Bio about Rebekah:

Previously with the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, Rebekah Babovic has more than five years of event planning experience, along with being well versed in emceeing and auctioneering. A Forsyth, Georgia native, Rebekah received her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia.

Rebekah leads the Chamber’s events department in developing and providing strategic opportunities to serve all Partners’ networking and marketing needs. From high-end sponsorships advertised on billboards across the region to monthly networking gatherings, the Chamber identifies the needs of our Partners and creates events that enthrall guests while serving a strategic purpose.

Q&A Session:

Q: How long have you worked in events and/or what led you to becoming an event director?

A: I got into events almost six years ago when I begin directing auctions and seminars on cruise lines for a private art gallery. During that time I became a professional auctioneer and emcee, which was something I thoroughly enjoyed about the job. When I eventually met my husband and we decided to move our lives on land, I began directing events for my local hometown Chamber of Commerce, which included festivals, parades, etc., and the universe has just seemed to guide me down this path of creating events that serve a purpose.

Q: What type of events are your favorite and why?

A: My favorite types of events are huge functions that take a year of planning to pull off because there’s so many layers of forethought that’s required to curate hundreds or thousands of people. Then after a year’s worth of work you get to see everything fall into place in one day or night and people come to enjoy themselves and meanwhile are none the wiser that I’m running around behind the scenes orchestrating everything. The feeling you get when people rave about an event like that – there’s nothing like it. That’s the feeling that gets me out of bed in the morning and eager to get in the office.

Q: How are events beneficial for Chamber Partners?

A: My purpose with the Chamber is to create events that benefit our Partners, and we’ve got several different types of Partners who have different needs of the Chamber. I’m constantly evaluating what the Chamber is doing event-wise to assess if it’s serving those needs, whether it be simply networking, convening policy makers, or even updating our Partners on what’s happening for businesses in the Midlands.

Q: What are Power Partner events?

A: A Power Partner refers to an investment level of $3,000 or more a year with the Chamber. What we’ve identified with this classification of Partners is that their specific needs go beyond those of networking and advertising for marketing exposure. These Partners are investing in the policy representation and the Partner-to-Partner connections that Chamber can provide for them. Our Power Partner events are designed to provide these Partners with opportunities to get in front of other Power Partners and enable them to convene on issues that are relevant to their business needs. We’ve just started this brand of events and it’s proven to be very successful in filling a need for our Partners. For Power Partner events we try to create a unique experience that maintains a purpose.

Q: How long have you lived in Columbia?

A: My family and I just relocated to Columbia in May after commuting from Augusta, Georgia for a month.

Q: What do you enjoy about Columbia? Any favorite places to go or things to do?

A: I like that Columbia is a big city with a small-town feel. I’m from a very rural part of Georgia, so it’s nice to have lots to do in the Midlands from zoo trips to kayaking. And yet, even though Columbia is one of the bigger cities I’ve lived in, it manages to have that small-town feel where everyone knows everybody.

I’m a big fan of the zoo – my little family and I can be found there most Saturday mornings. I’m also falling in love with the porch dining set ups we’ve found in the Vista and around downtown – local eats will find their way quickly into my heart with outdoor seating!

Contact Rebekah

Op-Ed from Carl Blackstone: October 2017

  1. Is your business prepared?

When you walk or drive around Columbia and the Midlands region, the evidence of positive growth is undeniable.  You see the progress and you feel the vibrant energy present in all parts of our community. Undoubtedly, it’s a great time for Columbia and for South Carolina. With all this positive momentum in the region, what’s not growing? Labor is the issue. For starters, let’s take a look at data regarding the change in the labor force.

The Southeast has experienced double digit population growth and positive job growth during the previous five years.  That trends continues in South Carolina with Charleston County population growth at 11% and job growth rate at 26.2%; and Greenville County reporting 9% population growth and 8.3% job growth. Focus even closer to the area many of us call home, and the data shows Richland County population growth of 5% and the job growth rate at -2.6%. (Source: EMSI Q2 2017)

With all indicators pointing to a growth and positive momentum, why then is Richland County’s job growth rate anemic at -2.6% and significantly lower than the job growth rate of nearby cities in our state?  This question is but one of the questions that the Columbia Chamber asks itself as we strive to fulfill our mission of being the unified voice of our business community.  It is questions like this that enable us to provide value to the more than 1,100 businesses who place their trust in the Chamber. Furthermore, it is questions like this that led us to embark on a transformative process which brought together 100 of the area’s top business leaders for two full days to ask ourselves the really tough questions: How can we be ready for the future?

That process created a framework for the future of the Chamber, called Forward, Together. As part of Forward, Together, we are narrowing our focus on public policy initiatives and issues which have an overall impact on the cost of doing business. We continue our work to advocate for transparency and accountability in order to foster a favorable environment for business.  We are planning for the accelerated pace of change our area is experiencing.  You can learn more about this at our website,

2017 continues to have steady upward movement in activity and development within our region, and within our Chamber. We have a renewed commitment to our mission to provide the unified voice to our regional business community to create and promote an environment where businesses can flourish.

The Chamber is uniquely positioned to orchestrate connections between all stakeholders: government, non-profits, military, private sector, education and community. Our funding is through the businesses that choose to invest in us and their community. We are not funded by public taxpayer dollars. This places us in a unique and coveted position especially when it comes to asking hard questions like the one mentioned earlier.

What can you and your business do?  Get involved. It will take the serious work of all stakeholders to define a better path forward in regards to jobs and investment. Our region needs the private sector to be engaged and be a part of answering the hard questions. It is only through sharing a common vision that we will grow in a thoughtful way. As evidenced above, there is positive momentum within the Columbia Chamber and within our region.  It is an inspiring time as we are on the path to transforming our region. To borrow from James Cash Penney, founder of JCPenney: “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

Carl W. Blackstone

President & CEO

Columbia Chamber


Read article from The State



October 2017 Partner of the Month: The Fresh Market


The Columbia Chamber is proud to announce Fresh Market as the Partner of the Month for October.  As soon as opening their Two Notch location, General Manager, Matt Carson was asking the Chamber for collaboration opportunities.  He and his entire team go beyond in providing service to help forward the Chamber’s mission, from quick turnarounds on catering needs, to donating food items and now Matt has joined the ranks as one of the newest Columbia Chamber Diplomats.

Fresh Market’s mission is to create a space focused on the value of supporting local growers and charities, while offering the freshest and most delicious foods possible.  They consider themselves more than a store, but rather a part of a community.  Their collaborative and selfless nature with assisting the Columbia Chamber has been a testament to Fresh Market’s dedication to their mission, and we cannot thank Matt and his team enough.

Congratulations to Fresh Market and thank you for what you do for the Columbia community.  To learn more, please visit their website at

Spotlight Article: Director of Leadership Development, Charlotte Bian-Lingle


Short Bio about Charlotte:

Charlotte Bian-Lingle is a Columbia native and received a political science degree from Queens University of Charlotte. Prior to joining the Chamber, Charlotte worked with a variety of political campaigns, from the Carolinas to Colorado and to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Charlotte oversees programs such as the Leadership Columbia program and the Leadership Columbia Alumni Association. The Chamber’s Leadership Development programs strive to provide our community with an enduring source of diverse leaders who are prepared and committed to serving their region. These groups focus on developing leaders within our community and provide training, networking, and community service opportunities for members.

Q&A Session:

Q: How long have you been in Columbia?

A: I moved back to Columbia from Charlotte, NC in December of 2016. I loved being in a bigger city, like Charlotte, but missed the sense of community that I had growing up in Columbia.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in Columbia? If so, how much and in what ways?

A: Columbia has been evolving and improving rapidly over the last several years. New restaurants, the development of Main Street, community-oriented events and festivals, and the rapid growth of the University – all of these things have helped Columbia become a great place to live, grow a business, and have some fun.

Q: What is Leadership Columbia?

A: Sponsored by the Columbia Chamber, the Leadership Columbia (LC) program provides existing and emerging leaders with opportunities to enhance their civic knowledge and network. For over 40 years, the program has helped participants better understand how our community works, build relationships with the region’s current and future leaders and become inspired to focus their talents in a way that will best serve the community.

Q: What are the benefits of participating in Leadership Columbia?

A: Throughout the 10 month program, participants have the ability to gain an in-depth view of community issues and participate in the key discussion with community leaders. Leadership Columbia participants develop the skills necessary to assume leadership roles and also become exposed to opportunities for community involvement.

Q: Through what ways does Leadership Columbia affect the Columbia community?

A: I believe the largest way this program affects change in the community is through the project that each class champions, throughout the year each class selects and implements a project designed to meet essential needs in the Midlands. The project provides participants with the guidance and tools to turn concepts into workable projects and solutions. It truly culminates the Leadership Columbia experience, directly correlating with themes explored during class sessions.

Q: What does the Leadership Columbia program mean to you?

A: One of the primary goals of Leadership Columbia is to encourage individual involvement in leadership roles within the community. Coming from a political background, I understand how important an individual’s participation is to create lasting change. The Leadership Columbia program gives participants a birds-eye view of the issues that are significant to the area. We want Columbia to be the best it can be, and the only way we can do that is by getting involved and taking a leadership role.

Q: What is Leadership Columbia Alumni Association (LCAA) and what are the benefits for LC Alumni to participate?

A: The Leadership Columbia class participants are exposed to individuals and experiences designed to challenge and mold individuals into extraordinary leaders. LCAA members are given the chance to deepen their leadership skills and further impact communities, companies, organizations, and lives. LCAA holds Leadership Luncheons that have had speakers such as: Marcus Lattimore, former Governor Nikki Haley, Dr. Harris Pastides, and many more influential leaders. LCAA also hosts events like the ELM Society Social and the Women’s Leadership Summit. It is also a nice networking tool!

Q: As a Columbia native, what are your favorite thing to do/place to go in Columbia?

A: I love going to the Soda City Market, on a Saturday morning, visiting our fantastic zoo, going to any Carolina sporting event, and grabbing a cocktail at any of my favorite watering holes in the Vista or on Main Street! It’s difficult to choose just one favorite thing to do – now a days!

September 2017 Partner of the Month: Aleph Wines Corporation


Aleph Wines Corporation has been chosen as the Columbia Chamber’s September Partner of the Month for their enthusiastic involvement with the Chamber within their six months of becoming a Chamber Partner. At the Columbia Chamber’s Power Partner Solar Eclipse Party, Aleph Wines introduced a specialty wine with green tea, white wine, and honey infusion. Aleph Wines is also providing a wine tasting during the Columbia Chamber’s 115th Gala VIP Reception.

Aleph is a one-of-a-kind specialty alcohol distributor that handpicks an array of craft beer, wines, and spirits for each customer. Founder and CEO, Jean-Pierre Chambas, started Aleph Wines in 2000 after seeing the need for a specialist in fine wines, beers, and spirits. Chambas is a well-known wine authority throughout the Southeast who selects only the finest products for his customers. Aleph Wines now distributes to the entire state of South Carolina and selects wines from Europe, America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of their European wines are exclusively sold through Aleph Wines and cannot be found elsewhere in the United States. The Columbia Chamber is thankful for the generosity and support Alpeh Wines has already shown and is excited for this Partnership to continue to grow in the future.

Aleph Wines is known for their excellent customer service and individualizing every order based on the customer’s need, rather than what items are on quota. Around the community, Aleph Wines is happy to partner with customers and suppliers to promote local charities. For more information about Aleph Wines Corporation, visit

Spotlight Article: Vice President of Partner Development, Jen Harms


Short Bio about Jen:

A recent transplant from San Antonio, Texas, Jennifer Harms brings a wealth of Chamber experience to her position. Jen served as President of the Leavenworth-Lansing Chamber of Commerce in Leavenworth, Kansas and Assistant Vice President of Economic Development for the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas. Jen is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and received her Institute for Organization Management (IOM) certification from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. As the spouse to a US Air Force pilot, she has had the opportunity to serve numerous communities and enjoys working with local businesses to ensure their sustained growth is realized through Chamber Partnership.

Q&A Session:

Q: How long have you lived in Columbia?

A: My husband and I moved to Columbia from San Antonio, Texas in August of 2016 due to my husband’s transfer. He is active duty Air Force and stationed at McEntire JNG Base.  I have had the unique opportunity of working for four Chambers in four states, all of which support military communities.  Through my work, my husband and I have been blessed to truly feel like a part of each and every community in which we have lived.

Q: What are some of the most valuable services that chambers provide?

A: Well I may be a little bias as I have chosen the Chamber-industry as my predominant career, for I truly believe the Chamber itself is one of the most valuable tools any community has.  For over a century, Chambers of Commerce across the country have been working on some of the most difficult challenges facing municipalities.  Chambers work with a flexibility that tax-based organizations cannot.  What other organization brings together every perspective across a community, every industry, every size of business, and every generation to work on accomplishing issues that are incredibly broad in nature and to work towards solutions that usually take decades of focus?  As our culture has changed, Chambers have had to adapt like with any business, and I see them being just as critical, if not more so, than 60 years ago in acting as a catalyst for meaningful change for businesses and regions.

Q: What are some of the services the Columbia Chamber offers to its Partners?

A: The Columbia Chamber’s Partner Portal is a powerful tool for our Partners; albeit, perhaps one of the most underutilized assets.  The Portal gives each of our Partners and their employees access to their own account at  Through the Partner Portal, businesses can upload special events, discounts or deals, job opportunities and news releases to the Chamber’s website.  Additionally, Partners can keep their business listing on our website up-to-date and robust.  Our website is visited frequently by one of the most diverse groups of people who are looking for answers within their own community, whether it be opportunities for fun or a service need.  Every Partner is listed and accessible on our website and searchable by keywords.  This assists our Partner businesses be found by those who need since oftentimes, the product or service lines may not be reflected in the name of the business. For any Partner that needs access to their account, just reach out to our team member, Chelsey Allen at and she will get you squared away.

Q: How does one become more engaged with the Columbia Chamber?

A: While the Chamber’s events are top-notch and well-attended, a perhaps greater benefit to our Partners are networking opportunities.  Since the invasion of social media, our society has used that as a crutch for relationship building.  As some of our most influential leaders in the community know, they didn’t reach the C-suite through social media, but rather through in-person network development.  The Chamber’s events and our committees provide those opportunities.  While the advantage of participation and return on that time investment may not be immediately apparent, stick to it and you will reap the benefits as a community member and businessperson.  As my mentor always reminded me, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.  We hope that every business person will come to the table and provide their perspectives in helping the Columbia Chamber find solutions for building a greater Midlands.

Q: How is the Columbia Chamber different from other chambers in which you’ve worked?

A: Every community focuses on similar challenges, and it has been more than fascinating to see how differently each community faces those issues.  Workforce development, job growth, and oddly enough, parking constraints have been a top discussion in every community I have worked.  Additionally, due to the military aspect, growing and sustaining the military presence has also been a key focus.   While the issues seem to be similar, working with the Columbia Chamber team these last 10 months has been some of the most rewarding and exciting work that I have done. Our CEO, Carl Blackstone, and the Columbia Chamber Board of Directors have one of the most aggressive and thoughtful visions for how this Chamber needs to adapt and change to be essential for our business community for years to come. Collaboration is a key element.  It is exciting to work in such a proactive environment that is positioning itself to lead some of the most difficult, but necessary conversations. As a military spouse, my time in Columbia will not be permanent, but I find pride in knowing that I am able to work with the Columbia Chamber during this time in its history.


Q: As a relative newcomer to Columbia, what are some of your favorite things to do or places to eat in Columbia?

A: One of our favorite things to do is to eat!  We were spoiled in San Antonio with their robust foodie scene and were more than excited with Columbia’s developing and diverse restaurant selection.  We prefer local establishments, especially breweries.  Conquest Brewery is one of our favorites as they have an incredible support of the military with a 25% discount.  It’s nearly unheard of.  Other favorites are River Rat and Swamp Cabbage for their outdoor areas that are dog friendly. Lucky for us, all three are active partners with the Columbia Chamber.  The Columbia region also has great walking and hiking opportunities which we take full advantage of with our dog, Homer (named after the NASA engineer and not the Simpson).

June 2017 Partner of the Month: Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers


Brett Rickert, a Kansas native and President of Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, is new to the Palmetto State and making waves quickly throughout the Chamber and business community.  Freddy’s joined the Columbia Chamber in May of 2016 and has been a critical partner since.

As a food vendor at the Chamber’s Spring Schmooza Palooza event, they were voted by the attendees as the best dessert for the Chamber Chow Awards.  Immediately following, Freddy’s jumped in last minute and offered to donate lunch for the Chamber’s Annual Golf Tournament.

For weeks, the Chamber Board and Executive members, staff and golfers talked about how much they enjoyed Freddy’s staff and of course their delicious steakburgers.  This coming August, Freddy’s will be onsite with a custard bar for our exclusive Power Partner Solar Eclipse watch party.

Located on Killian Road, Freddy’s picked SodaCity to be their first location before a rapid expansion across the state, and we at the Chamber are so happy that they did.

To learn more about Freddy’s please visit

May 2017 Partner of the Month: Palmetto SolarPros

Palmetto SolarPros logo

As a Midlands family-owned and operated business, Palmetto SolarPros exhibit their values in the community through every aspect of their business.  First and foremost, they pride themselves on their reputation.  Palmetto SolarPros support their customers throughout the entire process and for years after.  According to Tommy Wood, owner of Palmetto SolarPros, “Our reputation is our most valuable asset, and we treat it as such.  Each of our customers receive undivided individual attention during the design and installation phases.”

Tommy Wood and his wife Phyllis give back to the business community in more ways than one.  In addition to volunteering at numerous local organizations such as the Ambassadors Christian Center, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, River’s Edge Retreat and the Irmo Arbor Day Committee, Phyllis is extremely involved in the Columbia Chamber through the Diplomat Link program.  Together they attend several Chamber events per month and either volunteer or provide sponsorship. The positive word-of-mouth advertising the Woods lend the Chamber is invaluable.

The Columbia Chamber is proud to acknowledge Palmetto SolarPros as the May 2017 Partner of the Month. Congratulations and thank you for all that you do for the Columbia community.

To learn more about Palmetto SolarPros, please visit their website at

For more information about the Columbia Chamber Partner of the Month, or to nominate a current Chamber Partner, please visit our website.