LC17: Political Systems 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, October 11, current LC17 candidate Heather Cooper wrote a post detailing her experience during the class’ Political Systems Day:

“Networking Tip #1: Avoid discussions regarding politics, especially in the South.

As an outsider, that’s what I was taught. As a rising community leader, that’s a topic I seek out. Leadership Columbia is an opportunity driver, a vehicle for challenging the status quo, and a means of contributing to the growth and development of our community. That’s why I applied to the program.

heather-cooper-headshotWe [the class] are presented with varied perspectives each meeting. Political Systems Day was no different. Special guests ranged from investigative journalists to elected officials. A thorough review of political parties, the role of the media, the differing levels of government, the voting process, the Judicial branch, and the Presidential Election were the building blocks to this educational experience.

Most surprisingly, we heard of the grave disappointment many of the guest speakers felt regarding the state of our Federal Government and the parties involved. It was a consistent sentiment that was first expressed by Dick Harpootlian and Katon Dawson and later addressed by Will Folks and Ron Aiken. These aren’t regular people like you and I. These are professionals within the political industry, that have spent a lifetime building their name and pushing forward their beliefs. Although it may initially sound discouraging for the rest of the U.S. population, as their words settled I found the thought to be comforting. Inspiration surfaced as we engaged with Amanda Loveday, Scott Farmer, and Chief Justice Pleicones. Why? Well, because they didn’t just harp on the negative. Instead, the three individuals shared their thoughts on viable solutions after addressing a pending issue.

The very courage it takes to express your true feelings and be a positive voice for others, that is what a leader is made of. At this time in our country’s history, I find it imperative for more people to stand up.

Tip the scale and choose to play devil’s advocate when you can. Make an impact. Achieve something great through political service (like running for a board position or calling your representatives) or through genuine and consistent public conversations. Political Day reinforced the idea that if you don’t like what you see, do something about it. Although I don’t believe my calling to be related to politics, I do believe I have a responsibility to talk about politics more than I had previously. The key to opening discussion though, is making sure you’re educated first. Thanks to our day rooted in political discussions, I can now consider myself well-educated.

Additionally, I’m hopeful. Hopeful because there seems to be more self-awareness among citizens due to the 2016 Presidential Election campaigns. So much so, that Republicans and Democratic alike are yearning for compromise, teamwork, and unity. Columbia learned a short year ago just how strong a community can be when we all work together, regardless of background, race, political association, religion, etc.

We’re all in this together and together we’ll get better.

Networking Tip #1 REVISED: Go ahead, discuss politics whenever and wherever you can.”

– Heather Cooper, Leadership Columbia Class of 2017

October 2016 Partner of the Month: Schmoyer and Company, LLC

Partners of the Columbia Chamber for 21 years and counting, Schmoyer and Company, LLC is a firm of Certified Public Accountants that serves the state of South Carolina and the Southeast. Schmoyer offers a full suite of services including accounting, auditing, tax, small business, healthcare and much more.schmoyer-logo-600Schmoyer and Company combines solid experience with the flexibility to go beyond traditional accounting roles. The organization’s greatest strength is the ability to think outside conventional boundaries. Schmoyer and Company has the talent and experience to serve as your business consultant and advisor. You will find a team of professionals eager to discuss options with you and help you map out your best strategy.

Over the years, Schmoyer and Company has been a very active participant in Chamber programs and committees. Terry Schmoyer, President and Managing Partner, has dedicated many years of service to the Chamber’s Finance Committee and the Executive Committee. Each year, their staff attends the Chamber’s Golf Tournament and Annual Gala, along with countless other monthly events.

The company’s valuable contributions to the Chamber’s initiatives make programs, such as the Leadership Columbia Alumni Association Leadership Luncheon Series, possible. This year, Schmoyer also sponsored the Chamber’s Partner Engagement event at the new sea lion exhibit at the Riverbanks Zoo, as well as the Golf Tournament and the Annual Gala. They have also pledged to support the Chamber’s military initiatives and our troops at Fort Jackson.

Active in the community, Terry Schmoyer, Jr. chairs the Logistics Committee for the American Heart Walk of the Midlands and serves as Treasurer of Communities in Schools of the Midlands, which works to surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school. Schmoyer also serves on the Payment for Services Committee of the South Carolina Health Care Association and on the boards of the Ben Lippen Booster Club, Delta Upsilon Fraternity Alumni Corporation, Central Carolina Community Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present Schmoyer and Company as the October 2016 Partner of the Month.

To learn more about Schmoyer and Company, 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.

September 2016 Partner of the Month: Crescent Construction

Founded in 2012, Crescent Construction is a full-service General Contractor that specializes in roofing, remodeling, and renovations in the region. Deeply embedded in the community, Crescent has gone above and beyond for both their clients and neighbors.

Owner, Kevin Varnadore, is a believer in supporting local businesses by purchasing his materials from local suppliers and vendors, as well as utilizing local tradesmen and subcontractors. He also uses locally owned caterers, restaurant, event venues, and beverage distributors for company sponsored events, including an annual golf tournament for local non-profits such as Special Olympics of SC and Pets Inc.

The organization supports a wide range of charities and causes including the American Legion Post 6’s Patriot Guard Ride Scholarship Fund, WIS TV Military Salutes segment, Roofs for Troops, Pawmetto Lifeline, Hydrocephalus Walk, Lexington County Recreation, Columbia Parks and Recreation, Harvest Hope, 5 Points Association, Rosewood Merchants Association, Midlands Gives, US War Dog Memorial, SC ProAm, Chester Baptist Association, Lori North Foundation, Karen Walker Foundation, SC Federation of the Blind, numerous local schools, churches, and Chambers of Commerce in addition to donating materials and supplies to those affected by the October 2015 floods.

In 2013, the company was named the Irmo Chamber 2013 New Business of the Year Award Winner quickly followed by GAF’s Triple Excellence award in 2015 – exclusively awarded to GAF Master Elite Roofers (top 3% in the nation). For the past three years, Crescent has proudly been recognized as the “Official Roofer of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.”

Since joining the Columbia Chamber in 2014, Crescent Construction has been an active participant with Chamber events including the Annual Golf Tournament, as well as sponsoring and attending the 2015 Gala.

While Crescent Construction is trained in helping home and business owners with roofing and construction needs, the organization’s employees have a true passion for giving back to the community.

For these reasons and many more, the Columbia Chamber is proud to recognize Crescent Construction as the September 2016 Partner of the Month!

To learn more about Crescent Construction, 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.

August 2016 Partner of the Month: Bluebird Property Management, LLC

Founded in 2008 by Tammy Davis, Bluebird Property Management, LLC is a full-service property management company headquartered in Columbia with properties in South Carolina and North Carolina. Specializing in single family homes and multifamily apartment management, Bluebird logo 2014 (640x203)homes for rent, properties for lease, rental condos, duplexes and rent-to-own options, Bluebird serves clients across the Midlands; including Camden, Elgin, Lugoff, Blythewood, Lexington, as well as the cities of Columbia, Orangeburg, Spartanburg, Charlotte, Greenville, and Rock Hill.

Bluebird holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, has a thriving resident retention program, and 4.5 out of 5 stars on the company’s Facebook page.

Since joining the Columbia Chamber in 2009, Bluebird Property Management has gone above and beyond to make the most of their Partnership. The organization remains actively engaged with the Chamber by attending various events such as Coffee Connections, the SchmoozaPalooza networking expo, and the Chamber’s Small Business Workshops.

Founder and CEO, Tammy Davis, is also a new addition to the Chamber’s Diplomat Link program, a volunteer group working to connect and engage Chamber Partners. Additionally, Bluebird has made use of the Chamber’s Partner Portal, posting Hot Deals and job openings within the company.

As a small business owner, Davis knows the importance of civic involvement, and makes a significant contribution to the region through an annual back-to-school drive for her residents. Davis serves her community on the United Way Flood Recovery Group, the Advisory Board for the Alston Wilkes Society housing re-entry program, and the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Greater Columbia. Currently, Davis is a Certified Property Manager (CPM) Candidate with the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present Bluebird Property Management as the August 2016 Partner of the Month.

To learn more about Bluebird Property Management, 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.

July 2016 Partner of the Month: Gregory Electric Company, Inc.

After 65 years of business, Gregory Electric Company, Inc. has grown into one of the largest specialty contractors in South Carolina.  Headquartered in the downtown area of Columbia, Gregory Electric also has a presence in all major metropolitan areas throughout the state.

GECOMPAN.jpgGregory Electric is a diverse organization, covering all facets of electrical construction including electrical, mechanical, water features, and solar construction services. Their markets include commercial, industrial, utility and governmental agencies.  With over 350 employees, Gregory Electric provides varied work opportunities for all levels of experience and professional skills.

With an A+ Rating from the Better Business Bureau, Gregory Electric is known for their quality of service and customer satisfaction!

Gregory Electric has been a model example of a Chamber Partner. They are actively engaged in our Military Affairs Group and support the Chamber through event sponsorships, including our 2016 Annual Gala.

Their community involvement, however, does not end with the Columbia Chamber. Gregory Electric has made countless charitable contributions to regional organizations including the USO, National Guard Association, Red Cross, EdVenture, Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, and Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital to name a few.

Owners Bob and Barbara Livingston have also demonstrated extraordinary leadership within the community through their support of the military and Fort Jackson. Serving on the board of advisors for USO, along with several other organizations, the Livingstons are dynamic movers and shakers in the Midlands.

To learn more about Gregory Electric  visit their website.

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present the title of Partner of the Month to Gregory Electric!

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

June 2016 Partner of the Month: Brittons of Columbia

Brittons of Columbia is proud to sell the finest in men’s and women’s clothing and furnishings. The Devine Street shop’s motto is “First Impressions are Lasting Impressions,” and they specialize in helping the Midlands community create a memorable first impression. Brittons carries exclusive and one-of-a-kind items that ladies and gentlemen would be proud to own.

Brittons Logo.jpg

The sales staff at Brittons has over 100 years of combined knowledge to offer clients. They take great pride in educating customers about making the right decisions when it comes to looking your absolute best.

Brittons has consistently been awarded the “Best of Columbia” by the Free Times and was named “Best Destination Shop in South Carolina” by Southern Living Magazine. In today’s age, there are very few specialty stores left; Brittons has a tailored niche that has enabled them to achieve a level of quality to meet every customer’s special demands and requirements.

With roots that run deep in Columbia, Brittons is highly invested in the local community. This fall, Brittons raised over $10,000 for the United Way Columbia flood efforts and hosts a myriad of events throughout the year benefiting all things local!

Head to Brittons on Devine Street today for a one of kind experience and excellent service!

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present the title of Partner of the Month to Brittons of Columbia.

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

May 2016 Partner of the Month: Hall Marine Columbia

Hall Marine Columbia is one of six family-owned-and-operated marine dealerships in the Carolinas and Georgia. The Columbia location is off Broad River Road in Irmo and is a full sales, service, parts, and accessories dealership. Hall Marine technicians specialize in the servicing and repair of Mercury Marine, Mercruiser and PCM engines as well as boat detailing and fiberglass repair.HALL MARINE COLUMBIA jpeg

The sales department at Hall Marine has a wide variety of inventory including, but not limited to: Sea Ray, Harris FloteBote Pontoons, Boston Whaler, and Nautique Tow Boats. Hall Marine Columbia also has the ability to take boats in on trade as well as consign them through an in-house brokerage program.

The organization strives for excellence in everything they do and customer satisfaction is their number one priority! As a company, Hall Marine Group values honesty and integrity with customers, local business, and large entities that they work with on a day to day basis.

Being a part of the Columbia Chamber has only encouraged the organization to further integrate themselves into the community by partnering with other local businesses and having the opportunity to see how they can help others like them succeed and vice versa.

Being family-owned in an enjoyable and recreational industry gives Hall Marine the opportunity to meet and share the excitement their products bring to people all over the region. Having the ability to bring their company values to the lives of customers and business partners is simply a bonus to them. To learn more about Hall Marine Columbia, visit their website.

The Columbia Chamber is honored to present the title of Partner of the Month to Hall Marine Columbia.

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

Carl Blackstone: Richland County Penny Transportation Program Must Change Now

carl letter header

Richland County voters passed the transportation penny in 2012 believing that this small sales tax increase would bring positive changes to our community. The reality is that although the penny still offers potential, we must have accountability and transparency in how these funds are used.

As you probably recall, in exchange for raising the local sales tax by a penny on the dollar, the program promised to generate more than $1 billion over 22 years to improve our roadways, infrastructure and bus system.

It has come to light, however, that a number of questionable activities have been supported by this money. In December, the S.C. Department of Revenue revealed concerns that some funds have been misused, and there are even allegations of illegal activity. Unfortunately, this lack of accountability echoes the fears critics raised when the tax increase was debated.

At its heart, this program was founded to provide residents and businesses a safe, dependable solution to our serious infrastructure needs. Our region suffers from a deteriorating road system, which has worsened with the October flooding.

The Columbia Chamber endorsed the penny program wholeheartedly. But within that endorsement was a clear call for transparency and accountability, which unfortunately has gone unanswered. While our leadership has changed since the endorsement, we continue to see potential in the program — but it absolutely must be managed properly.

This is why I urge Richland County Council to take action now to protect the public trust and create an appropriate accountability system. The only way this can be accomplished through these four critical steps:

  1. Richland County Council must implement a single procurement system to eradicate biased selection of vendors for penny-funded projects.
  2. Funds must be used only for transportation-related expenditures specified in the referendum passed by voters.
  3. Penny accounts should be reimbursed for all expenses that the Revenue Department found fell outside of legally permitted uses. For example, $619,457 used to create the Small Local Business Enterprise Program should be refunded to the penny account; while this has a good purpose, it clearly is not a transportation-related expenditure as required by law.
  4. The Transportation Penny Advisory Committee should have the ability to hire an independent auditor to oversee the program.

There appear to be signs of mismanagement or lack of oversight. Making these adjustments will safeguard taxpayer dollars and provide foundations for an accountability structure that benefits everyone.

The public trust is at stake. Without proper accountability, there is too much opportunity for dealings that give the perception of being unethical or relying on favoritism. If contract awards or the expenditures appear not to be above board, it throws a shadow on the whole program.

On the other hand, this is a fantastic opportunity for our elected officials to substantially improve the quality of life for our region. By using these funds to improve infrastructure, they open the door for new businesses and jobs.

Now is the time for County Council to responsibly manage the penny sales tax and ensure that it is operated with integrity. The reality is that the penny tax is in place for the next two decades, so there is ample time for the ship to be turned and the benefits to be realized. Action must be taken now for the long-term good.

The penny program was promoted as a long-term solution to some serious and pressing needs facing the Midlands. I believe it still can be a viable tool for economic development and improving the lives of Richland County’s citizens. But that requires proper supervision and accountability.

Enforcing these changes is the only way to make this program fulfill that vision over the next 20 years, as well as live up to the promises that were made to all of us.

Letter from Carl Blackstone | October 9

This past week has been a time of heartbreak and resilience as the Midlands comes together to rebuild after catastrophic flooding affected our region. The rising water has taken the lives, homes or businesses of hundreds throughout our community. The support and efforts made by those inside, and outside, our state these past few days has been uplifting.

The Columbia Chamber has taken action to help those affected by the floods by initiating a Partners Helping Partners campaign in order to provide support to those who need it. If you are a business owner who has experienced damage due to the flooding, please fill out this quick form, as well as visit our website for a list of resources including FEMA support. If you are looking to help in the Chamber’s rebuilding efforts, please see the website for physical or monetary donations towards the Columbia Chamber Flood Relief Fund.

The Columbia Chamber asks for your support and patience as city and county officials work tirelessly to eliminate the issues caused by severe damage from the floods. The City of Columbia is working around the clock to repair the damage to our water system at the canal. However, the support of the community is needed by conserving water usage in order to speed up the recovery process.

In addition, the City of Columbia and Richland County have enacted a nightly curfew from midnight to 6 AM in order to ensure the safety of our community, first responders and officials. I ask for your support by adhering to the curfew and helping your employees and customers to do the same.

The Chamber is a community based business and as such has the distinct pleasure of stepping up when our region is in need. The way our Partners have responded with requests to help has been heartwarming and a daily confirmation of why Columbia is such a wonderful place to work and live.

Thank you,

Carl Blackstone
Columbia Chamber
President and CEO

Chamber Chat | October 2

Chamber FYIs
Chamber representatives participate in a variety of community meetings and activities each week. Some noteworthy examples from the past week include: attended the Richland County Transportation Advisory Committee Meeting; participated as part of the USO Advisory Board to host their fundraising Gala; attended United Way of the Midlands Young Leaders Society’s Breakfast with Leaders; Marketing & Communications Committee met to discuss upcoming initiatives; attended luncheon discussing new non-profit raffle law; Leadership Columbia Alumni Association Board met to discuss upcoming luncheon, featuring Torrey Rush.

2016 Public Policy Agenda
This week the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee sat down to create the 2015-2016 Public Policy Agenda. This is the second agenda the Chamber has produced, so stay tuned to see what the hot button issues will be!

Mix & Mingle with Elected Officials
The Chamber is gearing up for our inaugural Public Policy Reception, November 5 at the Carolina Alumni Center. Elected officials from Richland and Lexington Counties, the Cities of Columbia, Cayce, Forest Acres and Lexington, as well the Midlands Delegation from the South Carolina House and Senate have been invited to attend. Come join us!

Congressional Delegation
Earlier this week, the Chamber sent letters to the South Carolina Congressional Delegation asking for a continuing resolution to be passed that will allow military and federal workers to be paid and prevent a government shutdown. The bill passed for now, but you will hear about it a lot before December 11th.

Let’s Discuss This
What is the state of the economy? What does that mean for Columbia? On Tuesday, the Chamber will host Rick Reames III, Director of the South Carolina Department of Revenue, at 8 AM for October’s Issues Forum. Come discuss projects impacting our local businesses. Bring your questions!

Upcoming Events:

10/6 Chamber Issues Forum | 10/14 Small Business Workshop Series | 10/15 Coffee Connections | 10/20 LCAA Luncheon feat. Torrey Rush | 10/21 Partner Orientation & Reception