The 9th Air Force commander, who leads eight wings and three direct reporting units through its Shaw Air Force Base headquarters, is set to retire next month, but he won’t be going far.

Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist said Monday after giving a keynote address at the Sumter County Veterans Association Memorial Day ceremony that he and his wife, Kay, have picked Sumter as their home in retirement.

Zobrist will retire from the U.S. Air Force after 33 years in the military, during which time he has held staff positions at the Air Staff, Air Combat Command, U.S. Forces Japan and 9th Air Force, has commanded two fighter wings and is a command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours, according to his Air Force biography.

He said he first experienced Sumter in August 1992 when his assignment as an assistant weapons officer for the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron was relocated to Shaw Air Force Base after Hurricane Andrew destroyed Homestead Air Force Base in south Florida. He was then assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron as chief of weapons and aide to the commander of the 9th Air Force at Shaw.

“I came here with my wife, we didn’t have kids yet, and two dogs … and the welcome we received here in Sumter was amazing. We have some friends who are still in the area who took care of us at the time,” Zobrist said. “And when we came back, it was my next assignment, but I hadn’t realized the transformation that had occurred in both the city and the county and how well the county and the city work together. So, when it came time to make a decision on where to go, it was actually a pretty easy decision when we realized we could just stay put here.”

[Fourth Friday Concerts in Sumter]

As commander of the 9th Air Force, Zobrist is in change of ensuring the operational readiness of more than 400 aircraft and 29,000 active duty and civilian members. Since he took the reins in May 2016, the 9th Air Force has become a deployable, operational-level Joint Task Force, providing the Department of Defense with an “air-centric capability to task during crisis operations.”

He earned his commission in 1986 as a distinguished graduate of the University of Southern California’s ROTC program. In 1987, he was a distinguished graduate from Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and was assigned to fly the F-16. He has since flown the F-16 at five operational bases in the U.S. and Europe.

His combat experience includes Operation Deliberate Force over Bosnia, where he served as mission commander of NATO’s first mission of the operation. He also deployed as the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom and as the deputy director of the Air Component Coordination Element, Combined Joint Task Force-82 and vice commander of the 455th Expeditionary Wing in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Before his current assignment at Shaw, he served as deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command and deputy commander of Combined Force Air Component, where he was responsible for the command and control of air operations in a 20-nation area of responsibility covering Central and Southwest Asia to include Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria.

Zobrist was promoted to major general in May 2014.

He said his wife likes to play tennis at Sumter’s Palmetto Tennis Center and that they both enjoy activities available in and around Sumter.

He said the amenities are great, but the people are the main reason they are choosing to stay.

A car was recently stalled on U.S. 378 in Sumter with a bumper having fallen off. His wife suggested they stop and help.

“By the time we had turned around and came back, 30 seconds max, two other cars and a policeman had already pulled over to help. When you see a car that has stopped, regardless of the background of the individual, other Sumterites stop and try to help. So it’s that kind of community spirit. It’s uncommon patriotism,” he said, referring to Sumter’s slogan, “but it’s uncommon friendship. It’s a great community that we are really looking forward to being a part of.”

He said his retirement date and change of command will be June 13 and that his replacement is coming from a direct conflict as deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against ISIS, but that he is no stranger to the South, having been wing commander at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia.

Credit: The Sumter Item

Eaton’s employee Nyaaisjah Samuel shares her story

Eaton’s employee Nyaaisjah Samuel shares her story

Nyaaisjah Samuel is a social butterfly, mom of an active 3-year old — and a switchboard technician at Eaton.

“My job is to identify parts that are compatible with the switchboard structure,” she said. “I reference electrical drawings for amperage and the type of material being used.”

Preparing her for this role was a degree in engineering graphics technology, though she was initially drawn to the Associate of Science with an eye toward architectural engineering. “I really like to design things and see them come together; that’s what really grabbed my attention about the engineering field.”

She enjoys the position and utilizes just about everything she learned while in school. For example, she became proficient in several software programs to include Solidworks, AutoCAD and Investor that are used regularly at Eaton.

That interest, combined with her degree, have propelled her to a successful job at Eaten for 10 months and counting. Her favorite part? Despite having a technical background, she says it’s the people and their down-to-earth attitude who bring her work contentment.

“I like the people and the fact that I get to use all the skills that I learned in school and apply to my technician role. I even get to teach others the stuff I know.”
Nyaaisjah’s future is bright at Eaton, and demonstrates the strength of our workforce pipeline and our ability to connect talent with opportunity.

Lee Central Middle STEAM Launch

Lee Central Middle STEAM Launch

TheLINK Economic Development Alliance in Partnership with The South Carolina Department of Commerce- Workforce Division, held a STEAM Launch at Lee Central Middle School Today to introduce STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) concepts to the students in preparation for the STEM Lab that will be launched next year at the school. There were 15 exhibitors with interactive displays showcasing STEAM/STEM related items. All students in grades 6-8 participate in the three-hour event which was held in the gymnasium.

Also, Lee Central High School held a press conference at the middle school today – during the STEAM launch to announce the Drone Certification Program that they are hosting this summer. They have 40 slots for students to register for drone licensure. Lee Central is one of fewer than 10 school districts in the state to participate.

Alice Drive Elementary School students display STEM inventions

Alice Drive Elementary School students display STEM inventions


The Alice Drive Elementary School cafeteria didn’t look much like a cafeteria on Monday night but more like a science lab.

That’s because the school was holding its STEM-inspired Invention Convention, where students displayed projects they made with a science, technology, engineering and math focus. But, these weren’t just any contraptions.

“They had the opportunity this year to invent an actual prototype that would solve a problem,” ADES fifth- grade math and science teacher Kim Johnston said. “And, we told the students to think of something personal, and so it’s just an awesome event for their family and friends to come out and kind of see what they’ve been working on and put their hearts into.”

Johnston said she is glad students could invent something that intrigued them and that the project helped develop their problem-solving skills.

“As a teacher, that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “I want my students to learn, but I want them to love learning. I want them to enjoy it, and I want them to take that learning to the next level.”

Projects included a charm bracelet to help remember chores, a mesh bag to prevent the loss of socks when washing them, a trash basket that had another trash bag instantly ready when you removed the old one and a duck extractor, which was invented by fifth-graders Jenkins Andrews and Joseph Chapman.

“Our problem was picking up ducks when you shoot them in the duck hole,” Andrews said. “Well, we couldn’t get them if they went so deep, and it would just be wasted, and we don’t want that. So what we invented was an RC boat with a net on front; it drives out, and when you get to it (the duck), you gas it (the boat) and it goes down, lifts up under the duck, and once you do that, you can drive it back, and there’s no more wasted ducks.”

Chapman said he thinks they have a better solution to retrieving dead ducks as opposed to using dogs.

“The only solution that people have made so far is using dogs,” he said. “But the thing is, when you have dogs, the vet (and) food (are) real expensive, and I’d rather have a dog just to hang out with instead of having to train him. Dogs can get sassy when you’re trying to train them, and then they don’t want to be trained.”

Andrews said the whole experience was worthwhile.

“(What I liked was) working together and inventing something that we really needed,” he said, “and being able to use it and seeing all that we’ve done. It’s just knowing that you made it.”

Chapman said making the duck extractor was rewarding.

“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “The (most) fun part is seeing it work because you have all the processes and all the paperwork and everything you have to do. And then the best part is just getting the sigh of relief of seeing it come back to you.”

Credit: The Sumter Item

‘Gummy expert’ buys Sumter’s Mount Franklin

‘Gummy expert’ buys Sumter’s Mount Franklin


The way a corporate executive described it Wednesday, “there’s a little more science to getting those vitamins in there than meets the eye.”

Jill Pergande, chief human resources officer with top-volume gummy producer Santa Cruz Nutritionals, was referencing her company’s recent acquisition of Mount Franklin Nutritionals’ multi-vitamin gummy facility at 2720 Southgate Drive in Live Oak Industrial Park.

California-based Santa Cruz Nutritionals acquired the 100,000-square-foot plant in February after Mount Franklin — a confectionery company out of El Paso, Texas — decided to pull out of the vitamins, minerals and supplements industry market.

Pergande said Mount Franklin’s effort to venture into the growing VMS market in 2017 is common for candy companies that eventually run into difficulties in the market.

While consumer demand for confectionery items, such as jellybeans, has plummeted, demand for gummy vitamins and supplements is soaring, she said.

What separates Santa Cruz from most other gummy contract manufacturers to large brands is its experience and history in the market, according to Pergande.

In 1997, company scientists in research and development created the first-ever multivitamin gummy to hit the market, and Santa Cruz is considered an industry leader in gummy innovation and also taste, according to industry sources. It’s sometimes referred to as “the gummy expert” in the industry.

“With our research and development base and the years of experience that we have,” Pergande said, “we’ve been able to put things together in a way that allows us to have more supplements in the gummy.”

In acquiring the local facility, Santa Cruz retained all 49 Mount Franklin employees, including Plant Manager Michael Barrett, and the manufacturing equipment.

At its four other facilities in the U.S. and Canada, Santa Cruz was already producing millions of gummies a day. Sumter is now its fifth facility, and the manufacturer is looking to ramp up quickly here.

Barrett and Pergande said the plant is looking to add 35 production-level positions for a second shift during the next month and will continue to hire management staff, as well. Open production jobs are available for packagers, machine operators, maintenance technicians and more.

The plan is to bring on an additional 30 workers for a third shift this fall, they said. Then, the facility will operate 24 hours a day, five days a week.

Barrett and Pergande said applicants with Food and Drug Administration experience is helpful but not a necessity. Workers with manufacturing experience is also ideal, but the company has said it will invest in the right people who have the proper skill sets.

Credit: The Sumter Item

TheLINK Economic Alliance and USC-Sumter Graduates First Emerging Leaders Class

TheLINK Economic Alliance and USC-Sumter Graduates First Emerging Leaders Class

TheLINK Economic Development Alliance along with the University of South Carolina- Sumter announce graduation ceremonies for the inaugural class of the Ross McKenzie Emerging Leaders Program on Tuesday, May 21st. Emerging Leaders is a year-round leadership experience for high school juniors that introduces concepts in economic and community development through 8 monthly interactive sessions. The Emerging Leaders will receive 3 college credit hours, serve as a regional ambassador and be placed on a community board or committee during their senior year of high school next year. Sixteen students from Crestwood, Lakewood, and Sumter High Schools completed the program. Graduation will be held at Patriot Park Pavilion at 6:00 pm with a reception to follow.

Ross McKenzie, for whom this program is named, was a long-standing, well-respected member of the Sumter community. The Williams Brice Edwards Charitable Trust has funded the Ross McKenzie Emerging Leaders Program to honor Ross McKenzie’s and his legacy by inspiring Sumter’s youth to become Sumter’s future leaders.

Emerging Leaders is presented by TheLINK and USC Sumter in partnership with The City of Sumter, Sumter County, Lee County, The Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce, The Sumter School District, and The South Carolina Department of Commerce Workforce Division.

Year at A Glance
October- Philanthropy and Non- Profit
November- Legislation and Government
December- Crime, Victims, and Justice
January- Career and Higher Education
February- Industry, Economic and Commercial Development
March- Invest, Finance and Business
April- Arts, Culture, and Class Project
May- Health and Wellness

Lee Central High students honored in cord ceremony

Lee Central High students honored in cord ceremony

BISHOPVILLE – Eight Lee Central High School students were among more than 1,500 high school seniors recognized by S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman recently for making a future commitment to the U.S. military or to a military academy. The statewide Military Honor Cord Ceremony was held in the Richland School District 2 auditorium in Columbia.

This is the fourth year the South Carolina Department of Education has honored high school seniors who are actively involved in their schools’ ROTC programs who commit to serve after graduation with red, white and blue graduation honor cords.

LCHS students who participated in the ceremony were: Desiree Holmes (Army National Guard); Tyler Marcus (Army); Nyasia McQuillar (Army Reserves); Lakiya Mickel (Army Reserves); Hysaun Peeples (Army National Guard); and Nykeema Williams (Army Reserves). The two LCHS students who were unable to attend the ceremony were Christopher Boykin (Army) and Ahmondre Hickmon (Army National Guard).

The students are scheduled to attend Recruit Basic Training (boot camp) this summer after graduation for six to 13 weeks, depending on the branch of service.

“This is a major accomplishment for these students as they are about to join the military family and support our country,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Juan Cobbs and LCHS’ senior JROTC instructor. “Also, this is an accomplishment for our school, as this shows our growth in numbers at these events, and that we are developing effective leaders who are worthy to be honored.”

This year’s military and military school enlistees from LCHS have increased from last year’s five.

Credit: The Sumter Item

Central Carolina Technical College celebrates more than 600 graduates

Central Carolina Technical College celebrates more than 600 graduates

Central Carolina Technical College held two commencement ceremonies May 10 at the Sumter County Civic Center to accommodate more than 600 graduates.

The 10 a.m. ceremony was for students graduating from Business and Public Service programs and Industrial and Engineering Technology programs. The 3 p.m. ceremony was for students graduating from General Education, Health Sciences, Environmental Engineering Technology and Natural Resources programs. Academic Program Manager for Mechatronics and 2018 E.C. “Red” Kneece Award Recipient Bert Hancock spoke at the 10 a.m. ceremony. CCTC Philosophy, Religion and Spanish Instructor and 2018-19 Faculty of the Year Award Recipient Dr. Raymond Watkins delivered the keynote address at the 3 p.m. ceremony.

Academic Program Manager for Pharmacy Technician Dionne Simmons was honored during the morning commencement ceremony as this year’s recipient of the E.C. “Red” Kneece Teaching Excellence Award. Simmons is consistently spoken of as one of the best instructors on campus by students and fellow faculty and regularly volunteers and participates in college-related and community service activities.

Sixteen students from Manning High School, East Clarendon High School, Lee Central High School, Crestwood High School, Sumter High School, Lugoff Elgin High School and the Homeward Education Association graduated with associate degrees from CCTC that were enrolled in the Early College Program. They are Haley Andersen, Anna Bench, David Botzer, Shakira Brailsford, Kinsley Driggers, Rebecca Fleitas, Amir Jackson, Grace Joyner, Kelli McElveen, Cole Munger, Harmoni Parker, Janiya Singleton, Krysten Skinner, Madison Spring, Thomas Wallace and Leroy Woods. Sixteen students from Lee Central High School enrolled in the Dual Enrollment Program, which is offered at CCTC, and graduated with general education certificates from CCTC before they finished high school. They are Ni’Kiyah Carter, Ke’osha Evins, Shybleke Gregg, De’Ablo Halley, Akenyiah Hickmon, Destiny Johnson, Ayanah Lucas, Brittany Morant, Shakaila Pollard, Keishan Scott, Janayla Smith, Janise Spann, Ny’Keema Williams, Courtney Wilson, Timothy Wilson and Emani Young-Fortune.

Credit: The Sumter Item

Sumter’s Merchant Iron Works owner credits his mentors, employees in his journey to success

Sumter’s Merchant Iron Works owner credits his mentors, employees in his journey to success


Sumter Economic Development Board President Jay Schwedler describes winners in the world of local economic development as those who are team players who find solutions to add value and increase opportunities in the communities that they represent.

At an industrial business expansion celebration on Thursday, Schwedler said David Merchant, president of Sumter-based manufacturer Merchant Iron Works, is such an example.

About 100 friends, family members, clients and local and state officials turned out for the event marking Merchant’s business expansion, which was first announced last year.

The company, at 3215 Beulah Cuttino Road, is a fabricator and installer of structural steel, miscellaneous metals and material-handling equipment in the industrial and commercial markets and in the midst of growing its facility and adding 27 jobs along the way.

Phase One of a three-phase, multi-year growth plan included an 8,000-square-foot plant expansion and new equipment purchases to increase production and ramp up employment from 35 to 51 employees, Merchant said. The facility currently has about 40,000 square feet.

Phase Two will be completed soon and will feature a 150,000-square-foot outdoor steel processing and shipping area on site, he said. When the expansion is complete, Merchant Iron Works will have about 62 employees.

Founded locally in 2001 by Merchant, the company has grown from “humble beginnings,” according to him. After graduating from Clemson University with a degree in agriculture, starting a welding company in Sumter was a second career for Merchant, representing a “hobby”-turned-dream-come-true.

His first shop was a rented 1,750-square-foot warehouse space in Black River Industrial Park, he said.

He said his wife, Laurie, was his “touch-up painter and installation assistant” when he began the business.

A little later, Merchant was able to hire a helper. Business was good, he said, and in 2003 he was able to buy a local welding shop.

With the help of a fellow church member and business mentor, Gifford Shaw, Merchant set out to grow the business even more and did so with a product line that included stairs, handrails and smaller fabrication projects.

The operation grew to about 15 employees, and in April 2008, he moved the business into its current facility on Beulah Cuttino Road.

That was just before the Great Recession and economic collapse hit hard on the building construction industry across the country.

Merchant recalled shrinking his operation from 25 employees down to eight.

“That was tough,” Merchant said. “We struggled through ’08; we had a backlog and just couldn’t sell anything. It really got tough in ’09, ’10 and ’11, and I wanted to make a sign but I never did that said, ‘Next time you have a ’05, ’06 and ’07, don’t forget about ’09, ’10 and ’11,’ because it’s very humbling.”

Finally, in 2012, he said, the business cycle began to turnaround, and he was able to get his workforce up to about 25 employees. In 2014, he implemented technical upgrades to help production efficiencies, and in 2017 he set out to establish his current growth plan.

Reflecting on his life and career, Merchant said he’s been fortunate to have friends and mentors through the years.

“In closing, ‘I’m just a welder the Lord has blessed,'” Merchant said, quoting Archie LeTourneau, an early pioneer in the welding and steel business. “It’s kind of fitting: He had an interesting way that he got into it, and I look back on our story, and it’s an interesting way how we all got here. But, I’ve been blessed. Blessed with great friends, great customers, great mentors, and it’s truly been a blessing on me and my family.”

Credit: The Sumter Item

Merchant Iron Works Hosts Expansion Celebration

Merchant Iron Works Hosts Expansion Celebration

Sumter, SC- Merchant Iron Works, a leader in steel and metal fabrication held a luncheon today, May 9th, in celebration of their operation expansion that was announced summer of 2018. Surrounded by more than 100 guests including local community leaders, customers and special guests, David Merchant, owner, shared his story and the plans for further phases of the expansion that are forthcoming.

In total, the expansion will bring 27 new jobs and $2.5 million in investment to the Sumter based company. Founded in 2001, Merchant Iron Works services support the industrial and commercial markets.


“The fact is, lives will be changed by the employment opportunities Merchant Iron Works’ expansion will bring. More people will become employed and we will continue to increase our tax base and per capita income–that makes this a win for everyone.” James McCain- Sumter County Council Chair

“We are surrounded by companies that are not only committed to the growth of their business, but also to the well-being of our citizens and neighbors. Merchant Iron Works has been a longstanding member of our industrial portfolio and we commit to them a continuous pool of qualified candidates for their continued success.” –Jay Schwedler- President and CEO, Sumter Economic Development/TheLINK Economic Development Alliance

Up Close with Eliza

Up Close with Eliza

My path to Sumter is circuitous to say the least. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. I went to college at Princeton in New Jersey. After that, I lived in Princeton, London, San Francisco, Richmond, DC, Columbia (SC), Paris and Charleston. You may think calling Sumter home might not work for a world traveler, but I’d say you’re wrong. Working in the Economic Development office here keeps me plugged in around the globe as our office reaches out to multi-national companies to recruit industry and create jobs and wealth for all the citizens of Sumter and the Lee/Sumter region represented by TheLINK. But I don’t have to look outside of Sumter for an international perspective. As the home to Shaw Air Force Base, Sumter is blessed to have service men and women with experience around the globe calling Sumter home.
Before working in Economic Development, I worked in appraising antiques and fine art when I lived in San Francisco. In the world of appraising, the quality of any object has a direct impact on its value.
Quality and more specifically Quality of Life is the ultimate value proposition I have found in Sumter. The community welcomes newcomers with open arms. Sumter offers a myriad of activities for all ages from festivals, museums and galleries, specialized boutiques and minimal traffic compared to a large metropolitan area. Fine dining options like Hamptons rival those found in any of the places I’ve lived. Fun dining options that are kid-friendly are plentiful and more are popping up all over town
Sumter is an ideal place to raise my family. My kids not only play sports at school but also with Sumter Parks and Recreation and the YMCA. We enjoy tennis at the world-class tennis facility, and our family has easy access to hikes in the Poinsett State Park. We also enjoy one of the most beautiful parks in South Carolina – Swan Lake Iris Gardens which offers lovely gardens and walking paths, irises and, of course, swans of every species.
The cost of living here is lower than other places in the State, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of what you can find in Sumter is any less. And Sumter is an exciting place to be right now with downtown redevelopment underway at a brisk pace. It shows that the Team Sumter approach to and vision of making Sumter even better is working. The leadership here is invested, and I’ve found that there is a seat at the table for anyone with an interest in improving their community.
Looking in from the outside and reading reviews online may be misleading, and I’ve found that once someone is here, they are blown away by the assets and atmosphere Sumter offers. Quality of Experience here adds another layer to the value of calling Sumter home.
I never in a million years thought I would be living and raising a family in Sumter, South Carolina. One of our Board members said to me shortly after we moved here that his philosophy was to “Bloom where you are Planted.” The quality of life and quality of experience that I’ve found in Sumter provides me with all the elements I need to do just that.

Hometown – Richmond, VA

Hobbies – Travel, antiquing, cooking, reading and watching any kind of basketball.

Favorite Place to Eat – Upstairs outside at Rafters on a beautiful evening.

Favorite Place to Shop
– Sumter Lighting and Home – my happy place.

Most Rewarding About my Job
– seeing the impact of my work on improving our community.

Why is this Region Simply a Great Place
– I think I addressed that above.

Pets and People
–Married to the charming Bill Buxton, a family, probate and real estate attorney (voted best family attorney in Sumter 2 years in a row I might add). As we come close to celebrating 20 years of marital bliss this year, he’d be the first to tell you that “Every day is a victory!” We adore our 12-year old variety pack (boy girl twins) Knox and Lucy who keep us hopping. Pets include and have included at one time or another two dogs, 5 rabbits, 4 chickens, 3 fish, a hermet crab, a miniature lobster and more turtles than we can count. We’re down to one dog, Molly and one fish, Salt, but all the pets we have ever had are named in prays every night.

Eliza Buxton

Up Close with Yanet

Up Close with Yanet

Is Manufacturing really a great career choice? It took me sometime to figure this out—here’s my story. As a Cuban native my family and I moved to the United States in 2007. We were very fortunate to be the recipients of the Diversity Immigrant Visa program which is usually referred to as “Winning the Lottery” in many countries because the chances of being drawn to receive a green card are limited. I was just a kid when we were selected, but I remember how excited my parents were about this new opportunity to offer my siblings and I a brighter future. Without knowing much about this new country they still took the risk of leaving everything they had behind to start a new life in the United States. Having to support a family of five was not easy when getting paid close to minimum wage. Of course, English was a language barrier and it forced my parents to accept the less attractive jobs no one wanted. After struggling financially in Miami for more than a year, my parents were recruited by a Manufacturing company out of the state. They saw that as an opportunity to progress in life and they definitely took it. Their salary increased but the work was very tough. My parents worked at the assembly line for long hours (overtime was required) during the 3rd shift. “Aléjate de la fabricación!” —they said, which translated to “Stay away from Manufacturing!” That’s what my parents told me ever since because of their own personal experience.

I followed my parent’s advice and tried to stay away from any manufacturing related career. So I went to college at the University of South Carolina – Sumter campus and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. During my last year I did an internship for Sumter Economic Development/TheLINK and it was a great experience that turned into an internal position. As many of you might know, the primary role of economic developers is to recruit new manufacturing industries and retain existing industries to increase tax base and provide citizens with well-paying jobs (yeah—I just copied our mission statement!). Well… I never anticipated that after staying away from manufacturing I was now going to be recruiting them. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and it has been almost 2 years now that I’m been with the organization.

I have had the great pleasure to work very closely on different programs/events with our industries personnel and visited their plants multiple times. Now… I see how my parents where wrong and how it’s far from what I pictured. I learned that if you actually get the skills needed to perform the job required then manufacturing can be very rewarding. Modern manufacturing is actually advanced, clean, safe, lucrative, and has many opportunities for growth and development. After learning about different programs our local technical college offers for the manufacturing sector I was able to share the information with others including my own sister. She registered at Central Carolina Technical College and took advantage of all the great benefits offered to students. She enrolled in the CNC Machinist program that was offered and fully paid by the college. She continuous to work on her education and before even graduating this summer from the program she received an offer from a local manufacturer starting at $58,000 a year plus benefits. She loves her job and all the opportunities that she has for growth and development with the company. These are opportunities that my parents never realized existed, and of course, it has changed my perspective on manufacturing. Interacting with our local and regional Industries has also changed my mindset.

So is Manufacturing really a great career choice? Absolutely!

Yanet Alvarez

Up Close With Brian

As a former US Air Force member, we learn many things while serving our great country. Some of which entail learning a trade, working individually and as a team, communication skills, commitment, dedication, attention to detail, professionalism, and leadership. I had the privilege of serving our great nation for 15 years and upon separation from the Air Force, my family and I could have moved anywhere we wanted. Being that Shaw AFB was my favorite assignment, we fell in love with the town of Sumter, and decided to call Sumter our permanent home to live, play, work, and raise our children.
Service is all about passion and commitment and I cannot think of a better community to serve as we all work together to make our communities the best they can be. Upon transitioning from serving our nation, I had the privilege of serving our great state of SC, followed by currently serving our local communities as a member of Sumter Economic Development and TheLINK.
As we work to make the place we call home wonderful, we have a choice to speak positively or negatively about our community. If we each take a moment and look around us, our community has so much to offer compared to 20 years ago, and that is worthy of positive comments and excitement. The world is watching us. Companies looking to expand or start-up in the US are watching us. They are wanting to invest their money and resources in the communities that provide the best chance for success, not just for making products or providing services, but also in having great success in finding the hardworking and qualified people to work for them. People that serve our military are watching us. Those that are assigned to Shaw AFB have preconceived notions about our community. We want the preconceived notions to be positive ones, thoughts and facts that make them excited to move here, not worried about moving here. When it is time for the airmen and soldiers to leave the military, we hope they are excited to stay in Sumter or move back here to join our community as a civilian. When our children graduate high school or college, we want them to be excited to call Sumter home because great jobs and an amazing quality of life awaits them. It is my pleasure to serve my community with excellence and to represent out great town with pride and positivity. We can do great things if we work hard, are intentional, focused, positive, and make the hard decisions. We are Team Sumter and we have a bright future. Let’s all work together and serve/represent our great community with excellence! The best is yet to come!

Hometown: Pickens, SC
Hobbies: Fishing, hunting, watching college football
Favorite Place to Eat: Sidebar/Hampton’s/Rafters
Favorite Place to Shop: Simpson’s
What’s most Rewarding about your Job: Seeing people find great jobs and being able to have a wonderful quality of life. Additionally, helping our manufacturers grow, expand, and be successful.
Why is this Region Simply a Great Place: Our region is filled with many outdoor adventures, beautiful sights, and great places to eat and socialize. Plus, we are two hours from the coast or the upstate. Lastly, we have great people, people that truly care about our community.
Pets and People: I am married to an amazing woman, Kimberly Rauschenbach, and I have two wonderful children, Calla who is 16 and Brooks who is 12. I love my family and I am so proud of them. We also have two dogs, Daisy and Lucy, which are great furry family members.

Up Close with Erika

Up Close with Erika

In the world of Economic Development, the acronym BRE is commonly used for Business Retention and Expansion. If you’re talking BRE, you’re making sure that all of your existing companies are happy, satisfied and essentially their needs are being met with hopes that they’ll have the need to grow their operations. Over the past month or so, I’ve discovered that BRE for me takes on a different meaning. For me, BRE is Born, Raised, and Educated –all in South Carolina. And as we take this week to celebrate Economic Development, with my BRE in mind, it’s easy for me to understand why I am so passionate and have such a great love for the growth of this region. I was born in Denmark, SC—a rural town of about 3,000 people in Bamberg County. The youngest of 4 girls—or as I so often remind my sisters, the baby AND the best. My parents were and still are great! My dad emphasized the importance of sound education, and my mom put a microphone in my hand at the tender age of 2. Both talked about morals, values, family –and I’m still trying to figure out what “Lead your beef to bad market” means.
My formative years of school were just that–formative. This is where I was actively involved in just about everything I was introduced to—okay, not drugs- but creative arts and opportunities of expression. This is also when I started to take notice of things that were missing; when I started noticing gaps. As I interacted with kids from other schools I realized that they were a little more prepared than I was. Some had access to more resources and even things like better books. I noticed that some communities were better than mine. Some had more stores, different options and a variety of places to eat, worship, and work. Despite the lack, thanks to my village, I stayed on track and excelled in many areas, through high school and even as a student at Lander University.
Over the last 15 years, my journey in public relations and marketing has taken me all around this state and around the United States. I’ve seen many highs and enough lows to keep me motivated. I understand my responsibility to pay it forward… not that I ‘got to’ but that I ‘get to’. Prior to working in economic development, I really didn’t understand how it all works. I had no clue that economic development is what essentially yields to commercial and community development. Once upon a time, I avoided industrial parks—now I glide pass them intentionally. When I am held up by a train, it only means that a constant flow of enterprise and freight is moving. When I close my eyes at night, I’m grateful that I get to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others. It is my goal to make sure our region stands out because indeed it IS outstanding. Because my rearing, education and employment has taken me from the low country, to the upstate, and the midlands—when SC wins, so do I.

Erika D. Williams

Caterpillar of Sumter honored for excellence in corporate responsibility

Caterpillar of Sumter honored for excellence in corporate responsibility

Caterpillar of Sumter was among 20 South Carolina manufacturing facilities honored by the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance with its Corporate Responsibility Award for its accomplishments in 2018 at SCMA’s statewide annual meeting in Charleston on Thursday.

The award honors state manufacturing facilities that positively impact their respective local communities. Applicants are judged in three categories: Community Involvement and Philanthropy, Environmental Stewardship, and Wellness and Safety.

“We created the Excellence in Corporate Responsibility Award to honor manufacturers for the incredible contributions they are making every day in South Carolina,” Sara Hazzard, president and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, said in a news release. “The companies who earn this award are held to very high standards, and each have demonstrated that they have gone above and beyond in empowering their teams to be a catalyst for change that better their operations, community, and the state of South Carolina. We are proud to honor so many South Carolina facilities for their commitment to excellence in corporate responsibility.”

Credit: The Sumter Item