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 https://www.thefreshmarket.com/.


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 www.alephwines.com.

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 columbiachamber.com.  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 callen@columbiachamber.com 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 https://freddysusa.com/.

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 http://www.palmettosolarpros.com/.

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

April 2017 Partner of the Month: CPR, Cellular Phone Repair


CPR logo

Operating from offices and repair facilities in both Lexington and Columbia, CPR, Cellular Phone Repair, strives to provide outstanding customer service to everyone who walks through their doors.  Owner Steve Doyle has been active in both community and Chamber affairs.  CPR is involved in many key Chamber organizations that help give direction to our region.  These groups include the Military Affairs Group, the Chamber Issues Forum, and the Chamber Diplomats Group.

Whether posting hot deals to the Chamber’s website, attending a ribbon cutting for a new partner, or participating in Diplomats meetings, Steve and CPR can be counted on to be in the front ranks and in a leadership position.

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present CPR as the April 2017 Partner of the Month.

To learn more about CPR, visit their website.

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

LC17: Criminal Justice Day

The Leadership Columbia Class of 2017 is a group of 58 emerging and existing leaders in the region, who are dedicated to bettering themselves and their community. The 10-month skills-building program provides an educational experience with a strong emphasis on social and community awareness, while challenging the candidates to step
out of their comfort zones and become involved in Columbia.

The Leadership Columbia Advisory Board, an alumni-based committee, organizes nine full-day class days, an orientation and a two-day retreat for the class. These class days focus on timely topics in our region ranging from economic development to criminal justice.

On Tuesday, March 14, current LC17 candidate Caroline Tracy wrote a post detailing her experience during the class’ Criminal Justice Day:

Our class members met at the Richland County Government Office for our Criminal Justice themed day of discussion and debate.  After our eight hours in the classroom with our expert panel speakers, my takeaways are: first, mental health is a crucial factor that directly correlates with crime, and second, we, as a community, need to be doing more to aid in the rehabilitation and restoration of those convicted of crime.

Caroline Tracy HeadshotOur first discussion with Dr. Leon Geter of Benedict College served as a brief overview of criminology and the criminal justice system. There are five major goals of the criminal justice system – deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, rehabilitation and restoration. All components of our criminal justice system – police, courts and corrections – must be working in sync to ensure these goals are met. The overarching theme throughout the day was that even though our system isn’t perfect it’s working pretty well. While it’s important that our system is functioning for those who pose a serious to threat society, the most important question posed was “What is happening in our jails and prisons to rehabilitate inmates?”  Because 95% of inmates have a sentence that will allow them to return home, we should be investing time and resources into rehabilitation, restoration and exit programs as well as seeking opportunities to assimilate those in our corrections facility into society instead of alienating them.

Next, we had the opportunity to hear from Sergeant McDaniels and a representative from the crime scene unit of Richland County Sherriff’s Department. They were able to explain details of cases, physical evidence collection, flaws of the system as well as strengths of the system. One of the strengths that our system has developed is the use of technology. The acceptance of DNA evidence in court has not only ruled out innocent victims, but has also exonerated 112 inmates on death row. In our ever advancing world we are exposed to the positive and negative aspects of using technology, but this was a win in particular for our judicial branches and departments. Future technological developments that will impact the system include the normalcy of “smart systems” in homes, such as the Amazon device named Alexa, which have the capabilities to provide details on records and accounts of incidents. To see and hear of the impact that cell phones and DNA have had on our justice system left many of us wondering how these conversations will look in five to ten years with the continual advancement of technology.

We then heard from Jack Swerling and Barney Giese regarding the prosecution of crime. Jay Richardson, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, shared with us the most emotional and applicable example you might be able to think of. He walked us through the prosecution of Dylann Roof, who is responsible for the Emmanuel AME massacre. This was not the only difficulty subject covered; we spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about sex trafficking in Richland County. Although these subjects are not commonly accepted and endorsed in everyday conversation, it is of the utmost importance to bring awareness to these issues as they are happening right here, inside the walls of our own community.  These conversations were hard. But it must be done. With such an array of talented professionals sharing their knowledge and experiences with us you would think that either these issues don’t exist or that they might be too far gone and there is no hope. One of the main objectives in the development of individuals in our Leadership Columbia class is to bring exposure and awareness to current and familiar issues right here in the Midlands. This was one of my motivating factors to join Leadership Columbia, and it is the charge that I will leave you with today. Captain Heidi Jackson summed it up perfectly, sharing her mantra from Alice Hoffman: “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.”

How can we stop the cycle of crime, which is significantly influenced by poverty and addiction?  We, as a community, need to get involved. Don’t be scared of the dangerous, different and also messiness of what might be a lifestyle out of your comfort zone. Get involved with mentoring at young ages through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which can have a profound impact on our youth, their upbringing and their insight to other lifestyles and family dynamics. Spend some time with the inmates at CIU Prison Initiative and assist in other restorative programs. Invest in re-entry programs for inmates entering back into society. Work to promote mental health awareness and make this a common conversation in our community, not one that brings on an air of derogatory judgments. Be aware of your surroundings, as crime, abuse and neglect can be occurring right down your street, and report any findings to local law enforcement. Educate yourself on the presence of sex trafficking in the Midlands – South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force Annual Report 2016. The opportunities are endless – you just have to determine where you want to start.

Crime, all aspects of it, is related to the involvement and impact made by the community. The mental state behind a person is influenced in the very formative years by our community. The punishment and future of those convicted of crimes rests on the officials and laws that are in place by our community. The punishment, alienation and lack of opportunities thereafter is demanded by our community, and outside of that, our society as a whole.  The common thread that I see here, and that was further evidenced in our discussions, is that within our criminal justice system is the desperate need for strong societal and communal support. We must work together with our youth to prevent crime. We must work together with our offenders for retribution. And we must work together for future opportunities with rehabilitated inmates who offer the same and if not more experience and educational credentials than others in our workforce, but are not given the chance to prove themselves. We must work together, in unison, and with respect for the officials who are protecting us each day. After our discussions, it is evident that multiple agencies, non-profits and law enforcement divisions are working together for the greater good of our society. But where are we, the community?  What is our part in this process?

Justice is served. But is it really served when keeping a father away from his family?  Is it really served with fines, jail time and denial of employment?   Justice is defined as “a concern for peace and genuine respect for people.”  Are we doing that for all parts of our population in Richland and Lexington Counties and throughout the Midlands?  Whether the population is young, old, black, white, convicted, non-convicted – we need to come together out of love, respect and genuine concern for each other so that our community, our village, can raise the future generation, deter them from crime, help them to recognize other paths and opportunities, and ultimately show them the endless opportunities they can have on our society outside of a jail cell.

March 2017 Partner of the Month: Red Shirt Guys Roofing

Formerly Wade Culler Roofing, The Red Shirt Guys Roofing company has been serving more than 3,000 satisfied clients across the Southeast for over a decade. Commonly known as a residential roofing contractor, The Red Shirt Guys also have a division for commercial and industrial roofing.Red Shirt Guys logo.png

A Veteran owned company, The Red Shirt Guys work hard to support the military community. Recently, they presented a $5,000 check to Homes for our Troops to help build a specially adapted home for injured Army Veteran SGT Robert Barber of Chapin, South Carolina.

Echoing this commitment to the community and the military, The Red Shirt Guys consistently utilize local vendors and suppliers. Even when doing business in Charleston, or North Carolina, all of their supplies comes from right here in Columbia.

In addition to any manufacturer warranty, they offer a lifetime workmanship on the product installed. This means come hail or high-water, The Red Shirt Guys stick by their work.

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present The Red Shirt Guys Roofing as the March 2017 Partner of the Month.

To learn more about The Red Shirt Guys Roofing, visit their website.

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