BD Sumter hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham.

BD Sumter hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham.

August 26, 2020 – BD Sumter hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham praised BD for their active involvement in manufacturing medical devices made in the USA. Additionally Senator Graham recognized the efforts of the City of Sumter, Sumter County, Central Carolina Technical College, and the Sumter Economic Development team for creating a world class environment for manufactures to locate and thrive for the long term, as well as praising the solid and educated workforce to keep Sumter’s manufacturers running with excellence.

2020 eSTEAM Sumter Festival Cancelled

2020 eSTEAM Sumter Festival Cancelled

For Immediate Release Contact: Erika D. Williams 803-464-8880
2020 eSTEAM Sumter Festival Cancelled
Out of an abundance of caution for the public safety of our children, community and businesses, the eSTEAM Sumter Festival originally slated for October 3, 2020 has been cancelled due to the COVID 19 world-wide pandemic. In what would have been the festival’s 3rd year, eSTEAM Sumter is designed to highlight the many advances and opportunities that exist in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. Organizers were looking to draw a crowd of more than 7,500 students, parents and organizations. The festival is held in celebration of National Manufacturing Day which is the first Friday in October annually. Since its inception in 2018, the event has drawn thousands of attendees from Sumter and surrounding counties. Although a full festival is not scheduled, TheLINK Alliance and eSTEAM Sumter will continue to support STEAM initiatives and promote contests through its social media platforms.

Further event details are located at or facebook/eSTEAMsumter.


Sumter’s eSTEAM Festival wins Excellence on Main Street Award

Sumter’s eSTEAM Festival wins Excellence on Main Street Award

Main Street South Carolina recognized Sumter’s eSTEAM Festival with the Excellence on Main Street Award. This award recognizes the top project from among the winners in the five categories of the annual Main Street Inspiration Awards.

The eSTEAM Sumter Festival in downtown Sumter celebrated a program that brought together pre-K and K-12 schools as well as universities and tech schools to promote STEAM, also known as science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The eSTEAM program began when efforts to stage job fairs and manufacturing expos showed to the city that many students and parents did not grasp the range of available career opportunities in Sumter. As a result, city staff sought out businesses and organizations to plan the eSTEAM Sumter umbrella program.

The program highlighted career paths and aimed to increase the talent pipeline. In doing so, it sought to dispute the idea that success requires at least a four-year degree. By creating more buy-in from a wider range of audiences in the community, eSTEAM sought to contribute to Sumter’s broader economic development efforts, from expanding workforce development through the local technical college to infrastructure investments undertaken to attract and retain employers.

Funding came from workforce development organizations like the Regional Economic Development Alliance, Sumter Chamber of Commerce, the SC Department of Commerce Workforce Division and the city. The city and the Downtown Sumter program were also involved in every step of the process from planning to logistical support during the festival.

The initial 2018 eSTEAM Sumter event brought together more than 3,000 participants, 16 partnering organizations and 63 exhibitors for special activities encompassing an entire city block. The 2019 event grew to more than 6,000 participants, 17 organizations and 68 exhibitors, taking up two blocks.

“The City of Sumter and Downtown Sumter have done it again. They have used public-private partnerships to bring even more educational opportunities to kids in their city,” said Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC manager.

Main Street SC is a program of the Municipal Association of South Carolina. It empowers residents, business owners and local officials with the knowledge, skills, tools and organizational structure necessary to revitalize their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts into vibrant centers of commerce and community.

Main Street SC follows the National Main Street’s Four Point Approach — economic vitality, design, promotion and organization. Each year, Main Street South Carolina recognizes members’ achievements and successes in downtown revitalization. For more information, visit the Municipal Association’s website at

‘Giving back’ to Sumter in the pandemic: Paint company Sumter Coatings produces hand sanitizer for community, customers

‘Giving back’ to Sumter in the pandemic: Paint company Sumter Coatings produces hand sanitizer for community, customers


All our coronavirus coverage is free to the public. It’s the right thing to do as a public service to our community. If you find this article helpful or informative and want to support our continued coverage, please subscribe or support us with a tax-deductible donation.

To find all our coronavirus coverage, including helpful local resources and website links, click here.

Around Sumter Coatings manufacturing plant, there is a slogan: “Anybody can sell paint. We sell quality and service.” Amid the pandemic, the company on U.S. 15 South stepped in to meet a need in the community.

Sumter Coatings President and CEO Barry Reynolds and two members of his management team sat down Friday to discuss how the midsized chemical paint manufacturer started producing hand sanitizer in the spring when there was a product shortage at the onset of the coronavirus in the U.S.

Reynolds described thinking late one night in March about the shortage of hand sanitizer in the country with the start of the virus’ spread and the fact that his operation is a chemical manufacturer. The question became: “How can we get into manufacturing hand sanitizer, not on a major scale, but at least enough to support our community?”

After a few phone calls and discussion with legal counsel for the American Coatings Association, Reynolds was able to get a relatively simple FDA-approved formula. The next step for Sumter Coatings was getting a temporary exemption from the FDA to produce the hand sanitizer as long as the company produced it to the agency’s exact specifications, according to Reynolds and company Vice President Randy White.

With many of the raw materials for the finished goods already on hand including plastic gallon containers, shipping cartons and in-house label printing capabilities, the company’s purchasing department bought the necessary ingredients, and manufacturing began.

“It wasn’t a difficult startup to get into making hand sanitizer because we had all the raw materials,” Reynolds said. “Just getting the approval of the formula was the big thing.”

The FDA-approved formula is about 80% denatured alcohol, or ethanol, distilled water, hydrogen peroxide and glycerol.

Sumter Coatings produced the hand sanitizer in 238-gallon containers, or totes, used regularly in its production cycles. During about eight weeks in April and May, the company produced a little more than 2,000 gallons of the sanitizer, Reynolds said, in addition to its regular coatings business.

Given the simple formula, Sumter Coatings could produce a 238-gallon batch size in one to 1.5 days, he added. The batch translated to 238 plastic 1-gallon jugs for packaging, sale and distribution.

After putting the product on the company’s Facebook page, community members became interested because of hand sanitizer’s short supply at the time. Shaw Air Force Base purchased the largest volume – 200 gallons. Local nursing homes, assisted living facilities and several churches also ordered jugs.

Reynolds structured it so that charitable organizations, such as the local United Way, received the sanitizer for free. Nonprofit groups basically got it at cost, and for-profit outfits were charged a reasonable price, he said.

Sumter Coatings also provided it to many of its customers across the country, especially in New York and New Jersey, where there was a big need. Each company employee also got a free gallon jug, White said.

Some people even walked in off the street to get gallon containers.

Since then, regular hand sanitizer makers have ramped up their production, and there is plenty in the U.S. supply chain. Therefore, Sumter Coatings has stopped production.

The company still has one full 238-gallon tote container of it on the production floor that could be distributed right way if demand picks back up, plant manager Kevin Sweeney said. Reynolds added his company could also start producing it again if there is a need.

“I am from Sumter, and we have a lot of ties to the Sumter community as a company,” he said. “We’re in the nature of giving back to the community. That’s why we went down this road with the hand sanitizer. We stepped in to meet a need and provide a service for our community.”

Credit: The Sumter Item

Sumter County companies weathering COVID-19 with help from Small Business Association, County Economic Development Team

Sumter County companies weathering COVID-19 with help from Small Business Association, County Economic Development Team

Written by Brantley Strickland, SCCED

As the economic ramifications of a worldwide health crisis loomed, economic development officials throughout the state were preparing to protect their most precious commodity: existing industries.

And things are no different in Sumter County, where local manufacturers have managed to navigate COVID-19 with a little help from their friends near and far.

“We’ve tried to help in any way we can, and we know better than anyone that companies are getting flooded with information about COVID-19,” said Brian Rauschenbach, SCCED, Project Manager for Sumter Economic Development. “Some of the things we’ve been trying to do throughout this pandemic is to protect our companies by relaying the most relevant information possible, while being a connector and problem solver.”

Some of the most pertinent information companies have found use for include news on the federal government’s recently-launched the Paycheck Protection Program.

Administered through the Small Business Administration, PPP loans were designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The loans, which carry a 1 percent interest rate, are forgivable if the applicants meet certain benchmarks. Among the criteria, all employees must be kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
As an indirect result, economic developers like Rauschenbach have been thrust into the position of information conduit for companies looking to utilize the funding to help weather the economic ramifications of COVID-19. The SBA estimates 61 percent of all small business (500 employees or smaller) have applied for PPP funding.

“We are hearing a good success rate for approval, depending on the financial institution they choose to use,” Rauschenbach said. “You have to remember the program was rolled out very quickly which caused some delays. Companies have applied with financial institutions both locally and nationally, including QuickBooks. We have several that have applied and been approved that have already received funding.”

Rauschenbach also mentioned the Department of Commerce’s COVID-19 response microsite as a critical resource for Sumter County companies.

“I think Commerce has done a great job with their webpage,” he said. “It’s been a great central hub for information that we can direct companies to.”

Although some companies have reported furloughs and reductions in orders because of the recent economic climate, the long-term outlook continues to trend upward.

“As difficult as this has been for our companies, both large and small, they have done very well during this trying time,” Rauschenbach said. “We’re very fortunate to have a solid manufacturing base, and we’re ready to move forward. Times like these show the importance of a having great relationships with employers and having a strong business retention and expansion program in place. Once a company locates to our region, they are part of our family and we want them to thrive, no matter the situation.”

For more information on Sumter Economic Development, visit Rauschenbach is also on Linkedin at:

COVID-19 Community Outreach

COVID-19 Community Outreach

The safety, health and well-being of our community is of the utmost importance during this especially challenging time. We all play an important role in slowing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and hopefully limiting the impact on local and regional business functions.

In response to the COVID-19, we have compiled a list of resources for our local businesses and their employees. Please check the following pages for resources:

SC Department of Commerce, through their COVID-19 Business Resource Center, has compiled helpful resources regarding business and health updates. Be sure to use this information and check back often for the most current updates:

SC Emergency Management Division information for companies: The Emergency Management Division (EMD), has helpful measures that companies may want to consider and be proactive with should the state go on lockdown. View these two links and

We’ll continue to provide information and updates as it becomes available.

Sumter Original Brewery Establishing Operations In Sumter County

Sumter Original Brewery Establishing Operations In Sumter County

$6.5 million investment will create 20 new jobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sumter Original Brewery, a local craft brewery, today announced plans to establish operations in Sumter County. The company’s $6.5 million investment will create 20 new jobs.

The first-of-its-kind in the county, Sumter Original Brewery will brew beers using the centuries-old Germanic tradition of step mashing – coaxing out subtle nuances by enzymatic activity.

Located at 2 South Main Street in Sumter, Sumter Original Brewery’s 30,000-square-foot facility will have a 15-barrel brewing system that will brew a diverse selection on craft beers including an IPA, stout, sour, pale ale, light beer and more.

Operations are expected to be online by mid-March. Individuals interested in joining the Sumter Original Brewery team should visit


“We are excited to bring Sumter’s first brewery to downtown Sumter and continue the revitalization efforts of this historic area. We want to create a convergence of world-class beer, along with the great food and atmosphere of downtown for the people of Sumter and surrounding areas. Thank you to everyone that has supported and contributed to this project over the past twelve years.” –Sumter Original Brewery Owner and Operator Gray Shuler

“All around South Carolina, businesses of all types are thriving, and today’s announcement by Sumter Original Brewery is a testament to that. We congratulate this company and look forward to watching them impact the community for years to come.” –Gov. Henry McMaster

“South Carolina’s craft brewing industry continues to grow, making a name for itself locally, regionally and nationally. We welcome Sumter Original Brewery to Sumter County and are excited about the impact these 20 new jobs will make in the community.” –Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt

“The opening of Sumter Original Brewery will take Sumter’s revitalization to the next level, as a vibrant downtown benefits everyone. It will complement everything that has been done and encourage even more investment. I believe our downtown success instills pride in all our citizens.” –City of Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen

“Sumter Original Brewery will be an economic anchor as we highly anticipate an uptick in young adults eating and exploring downtown as a result.” –Sumter County Council Chair James McCain

“It is really exciting to witness the great response by the community to Sumter Original Brewery. We believe this investment will have a longstanding impact on our local economy and helps to cement downtown Sumter as a dynamic place to do business.” –Sumter Economic Development Chair Greg A. Thompson


• Sumter Original Brewery is establishing operations in Sumter County.
• $6.5 million investment will create 20 new jobs.
• Sumter Original Brewery is a local, craft brewery.
• Located at 2 South Main Street in Sumter, S.C.
• Individuals interested in joining the Sumter Original Brewery team should visit



Thursday, December 19, 2019
More than $14 million investment to create 57 new jobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Jemison Metals, a leading supplier of carbon flat-rolled products, today announced plans to expand operations in Sumter County. The more than $14 million investment is expected to create 57 new jobs.

Since establishing operations in Sumter, S.C. in February 2001, Jemison Metals has focused on vertical integration to allow for more control over its supply chain. This expansion will include a new product line that will increase service capabilities to provide additional downstream manufacturing and fabrication for the company’s customers and end users.

Jemison Metals’ existing operations are located at 1255 Northgate Drive in the Live Oak Industrial Park in Sumter, S.C., and the new product line will occupy 70,000 square feet of a building located at 2630 Highway 15 South, in the same industrial park.

The expansion is expected to be complete in 2023. Individuals interested in joining the Jemison Metals team can apply directly at 1255 Northgate Drive in Sumter, S.C.


“Jemison Metals is thrilled about our opportunity for business growth, further investment and creation of new jobs in Sumter, S.C. The hard work, dedication and support by Team Sumter during this process was a key factor in our decision to grow our operation in the community.” –Jemison Metals President and COO Craig Mathiason

“We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the growth of Jemison Metals in Sumter County. The company’s decision to continue investing in South Carolina is a huge win for the local community and our state’s manufacturing industry.” –Gov. Henry McMaster

“South Carolina businesses continue to excel, thanks to the dedication displayed by our world-class workforce. Jemison Metals’ additional investment in Sumter County is a testament to the reputation the community has built, and I look forward to seeing all this company will achieve in the years to come.” –Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt

“We are always elated when companies in Sumter County grow and expand. It demonstrates that we have all the necessary components for businesses to not only locate here, but also to thrive.” –Sumter County Council Chair James McCain

“It is indeed exciting to know that Jemison Metals will be expanding its Sumter operations. It is always our goal to create a climate that stimulates growth, development and progress for our businesses and our citizens.” -Mayor of Sumter Joseph McElveen

“Jemison Metals’ Sumter County expansion is yet another illustration of how committed we are to developing successful businesses and growing our economy. There’s something uniquely special about this community and it’s always great when our industries recognize this distinction as well.” –Sumter Economic Development Chair Greg Thompson


• Jemison Metals is expanding operations in Sumter County.
• The more than $14 million investment is creating 57 new jobs.
• The company is a leading supplier of carbon flat-rolled products.
• The expansion includes a new product line that will be located at 2630 Highway 15 South in Sumter, S.C.
• Individuals interested in joining the Jemison Metals team can apply directly at 1255 Northgate Drive in Sumter, S.C.

Sumter Featured in Where to Retire Magazine

Sumter Featured in Where to Retire Magazine


Sumter Featured in Where to Retire Magazine

Houston, TX (Dec. 11, 2019) – Sumter, SC, has been selected as a top retirement destination by Where to Retire, the only magazine in America geared toward helping people with retirement relocation decisions. Sumter is profiled in a feature titled “8 Tax-Friendly Towns” in the January/February 2020 issue, available nationwide now.
Where to Retire Editor Annette Fuller said many retirees seek out a budget-friendly town that still offers charming attractions and amenities. “While the cost of living is low, these communities provide a high quality of life,” Fuller said. “A popular spot for veterans, thanks to an Air Force base, Sumter, SC, has friendly locals, according to our interviewed retiree, and myriad cultural and outdoor options, like a 1,000-acre state park.”
Retirement Relocation Trends
According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 700,000 Americans relocate to new towns in retirement each year. Generally, these relocating retirees are healthier, better educated and more affluent than those who choose to not relocate, and they bring significant economic benefits to their new states and hometowns.
Florida continues to reign as the No. 1 destination for retirement relocation, followed by Arizona, South Carolina and North Carolina. The most popular region is the Southeast, claiming eight of the 17 states showing increases in total net retiree migration. This research and the latest census data is detailed in Where to Retire’s four-part series on retirement relocation. Order these back issues online.
About Where to Retire
As the authority on retirement relocation since 1992, Where to Retire has covered hundreds of the best retirement regions, towns and master-planned communities. The magazine is published six times a year and has a national circulation of 200,000. The July/August issue also includes the magazine’s most popular feature story — the 11th edition of the “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” (View a complete list of the 50 Best online.) Where to Retire editors recently released the sixth edition of the book “America’s 100 Best Places to Retire.”
Request a free trial issue at
8 Tax-Friendly Towns: Anacortes, WA; Boulder City, NV; Nacogdoches, TX; Robertson County, TN; Smyrna, GA; Sumter, SC; West Feliciana Parish, LA; Winter Garden, FL.
For more information or interview requests, please contact Kathryn Worrall at

SKF expanding Sumter County operations $26 million investment to create 10 new jobs

SKF expanding Sumter County operations $26 million investment to create 10 new jobs

SKF expanding Sumter County operations
$26 million investment to create 10 new jobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. – SKF, a global leader in bearing manufacturing, today announced plans to expand its Sumter County operations. The company’s $26 million investment is projected to create 10 new jobs.
SKF manufactures bearings of all sizes and serves applications and markets, including military, medical, semi-conductor and the standard catalogue business.
Operating in two facilities located at 925 Corporate Circle and 840 Corporate Circle in Sumter, S.C., the company’s world-class manufacturing, industry 4.0 orientation activities and increased demand are leading to a new line design and installation of state-of-the-art equipment and handling systems.
The expansion is expected to be completed by December of 2020. Individuals interested in joining the SKF team should visit
“SKF is proud to have a home here in Sumter. We are committed to world-class manufacturing and providing a world of reliable rotation through a talented and engaged workforce. We are grateful for the collaborative efforts of local government and community officials in establishing a business-centric environment where SKF can feel confident in investing in our facility and creating valued jobs. We look forward to the continued success of our SKF Sumter manufacturing team as they advance the world of next-generation bearing manufacturing.” –SKF Sumter Director of Operations Marcus Jakob
“We work hard every day to recruit new companies to South Carolina, but it’s even more exciting to see one of our existing businesses expand. When a company like SKF grows its operations, it sends a message to other businesses that South Carolina is a place where they can thrive. We celebrate SKF’s decision to invest $26 million and create 10 new jobs in Sumter County.” –Gov. Henry McMaster
“SKF is a valued part of the South Carolina business community, and it’s great to see them continue to grow within our borders. We look forward to seeing this company prosper for years to come.” –Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt
“Then Kaydon, now SKF; one thing that has not changed is this company’s high reputation and delivery of service. We are grateful for SKF’s continued investment in our community and our people of Sumter County.” –Sumter County Council Chair James McCain
“We are always thrilled to announce company expansions in Sumter, as it highlights our ability to produce quality products and superior talent that promote growth and vitality for our industrial partners and our community.” –Sumter Mayor Joseph McElveen
“We are fortunate to have companies that are true partners who are not only committed to the growth of their business, but also to the well-being of our citizens and neighbors. Our task is to continuously regenerate the talent needed to deliver outstanding results for our partners bearing all confidence in our ability to perform.” –Sumter Economic Development Chair Greg Thompson

 SKF is expanding operations in Sumter County.
 $26 million investment to create 10 new jobs.
 SKF is a global leader in bearing manufacturing.
 Located at 925 Corporate Circle and 840 Corporate Circle in Sumter, S.C.
 Individuals interested in joining the SKF team should visit

About S.C. Department of Commerce
As South Carolina’s leading economic development agency, the Department of Commerce works to recruit new businesses and help existing business grow. S.C. Commerce has recruited world-class companies to South Carolina such as BMW, Boeing, Continental, Giti Tire, LPL Financial Holdings, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Samsung, Toray and Volvo Cars and also supports startups, small and existing business, innovation and rural development initiatives. S.C. Commerce partners with the S.C. Technical College System via readySC to support workforce training and recruiting, and with the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, which provides worker training and employment opportunities within the state. With a strong international footprint, the Palmetto State was among the top in the nation for attracting jobs through foreign investment on a per capita basis in 2018 – extending its streak of top five finishes since 2011. Additionally, the state has won the Gold or Silver Shovel Award from Area Development magazine every year since 2011; and, in 2017, the state was recognized as Business Facilities’ State of the Year. For more information, visit

Alex Clark, CMP
Director of Marketing & Communications South Carolina Department of Commerce (803) 737-1998

Sumter’s Bates Middle School earns national STEM certification

Sumter’s Bates Middle School earns national STEM certification

Four years ago, Bates Middle School offered the same handful of electives – physical education, band, art and keyboarding – that you could find in a school a generation ago.

As Principal Ayesha Hunter describes it, by now tapping into the skills and talents of its teachers and using community partners, the Sumter School District school offers 40 electives with a focus on 21st-century skills.

For all that hard work, a leading educational certification group recognized Bates last week as a nationally certified STEM-accredited school. It’s the second district school to earn the national accreditation for its curriculum focus on science, technology, engineering and math – Alice Drive Middle is the other.

Hunter and her STEM faculty team sat down and discussed the four-year journey on Wednesday.

To be nationally recognized with the certification, schools have to show evidence they are meeting 11 STEM standards across categories for students, teachers/administrators and experiences.
Hunter and teachers said transitioning from a traditional school to a STEM school involves a “mindset change.”

There’s a general change in teaching style, where the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, students are given goals, and the class is more student-led. Students generally sit in groups to increase collaboration and work on projects involving problem-solving.

Examples of some of the electives include digital multimedia, AutoCAD/robotics, financial literacy, character education, Advancement Via Individual Determination and biomedicine.

Those electives result in “authentic experiences” for students who often can’t be successful in a traditional classroom setting, according to eighth-grade science teacher Tiffany Green.

“When students are working on projects, they are not going to sit isolated from each other,” Green said. “They are going to be working in groups and collaborating.”

She said, given technology advances, students often work on laptops, and teachers across different subjects can work collaboratively on the same shared documents.

Partnerships with professors and teachers from Central Carolina Technical College, USC Sumter and the district’s Sumter Career and Technology Center have helped transform the learning environment, Hunter and team members said.

In Angina Montgomery’s digital multimedia class, middle schoolers were creating animation with Google Classroom slides.

Seventh-grader Kevin Gordon had 91 slides with characters from a Dragon Ball Z battle. He said TV shows and movies got him interested in animation.

In Jermaine White’s AutoCAD/introduction to robotics class, sixth-graders were making spheres and creating blueprints of 3-D models.

Dominique Wilson, a second-year CCTC student majoring in engineering design technology, was helping lead the class.

Dalton Williams, 11, said when he grows up he thinks he would like to make robots.

“Robots are really powerful in everyday life because they can do things most humans can’t do,” Williams said. “They can be stronger than humans or even sometimes smarter if you program them correctly.”

Williams said he might want to become a Navy SEAL and invent naval weapons.

“I am pretty sure,” he said, “they are using a lot of robots now.”

Credit: The Sumter Item

TheLINK Economic Development Alliance Receives Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council

TheLINK Economic Development Alliance Receives Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council

CONTACT: Erika Williams
October 18, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – TheLINK Economic Development Alliance won a silver award for its eSTEAM Sumter Festival, a project in the category of special event of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). The honor was presented at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, October 15 during the IEDC Annual Conference, which was held October 13 – October 16, in Indianapolis, IN.

“This award is a big win for our community as it acknowledges what can be accomplished when we work together collaboratively. The eSTEAM Sumter Festival recognition from IEDC showcases that we’re a world-class region with world-class people capable of meeting the needs of both new and expanding business and industry. This festival highlights many of our competitive advantages”, said Erika Williams with TheLINK Economic Development Alliance.

IEDC’s Excellence in Economic Development Awards recognize the world’s best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and the year’s most influential leaders. 34 award categories honor organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Awards are judged by a diverse panel of economic and community developers from around the world, following a nomination process held earlier this year. IEDC received over 400 submissions from 12 countries.

Lee and Sumter counties joined together in 2014 forming TheLINK, the regional economic development organization charged with fostering job creation and increased earnings. Strengthening our talent pipeline is critical to this process as we showcase the region’s assets for business recruitment and business success.

“The recipients of IEDC’s Excellence in Economic Development awards represent the very best of economic development and exemplify the ingenuity, integrity, and leadership that our profession strives for each and every day”, said 2019 IEDC Board Chair, Tracye McDaniel. “We’re honored to recognize more than 100 communities for their excellent work, which forges new opportunities for our profession. We look forward to even greater participation from economic developers across the globe in the 2020 awards program.”
About the International Economic Development Council

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization serving economic developers. With more than 5,000 members, IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base. From public to private, rural to urban and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience. Given the breadth of economic development work, our members are employed in a wide variety of settings including local, state, provincial and federal governments, public-private partnerships, chambers of commerce, universities and a variety of other institutions. When we succeed, our members create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities, and improve the quality of life in their regions. Learn more at


Recover. Return. Grow.: NOVA Molecular Technologies Inc. marks 5 years in Sumter

Recover. Return. Grow.: NOVA Molecular Technologies Inc. marks 5 years in Sumter

NOVA Molecular Technologies Inc. gets the sticky out.

NOVA’s high-value solvent recovery and return program is like lighter fluid to tape residue. The Sumter-based manufacturing company takes solvent, messy, hazardous, waste that companies have used to make their products, and sends it through fractional distillation columns that clean it. They extract the waste and get the material back to its original form, if not cleaner.

The result is a material that can be returned to the customer for reuse. It’s a cycle that is both better for the customer’s bottom line – they’re not paying to either burn or dispose of the waste – and better for the environment in a world where industries are increasingly aware of their carbon footprint.

Imagine if, instead of simply cleaning up a mess left behind, lighter fluid returned Duct tape to its original form.

Imagine that, instead of simply being durable residue, the sticky left behind was flammable and highly hazardous in a situation gone wrong.

Imagine how, instead of being used to hold and seal items around the house and shop, Duct tape and its residue was critical to make insulin, contact lenses and other pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnical products?

“There’s nobody else doing this. People will take waste material and do something with it; they’ll take it up the value line, take it to become something you can put into a paint thinner, but they won’t take it to where they can return it back to its original form,” said Greg Hoffman, vice president of operations for NOVA. “That last segment is the real science, the real art of the business.”

NOVA launched 30 years ago in Houston, Texas, but four years after expanding to Sumter, the 40-employee company sold its original plant to focus its efforts on Magnolia Street. Now, its five-year anniversary in Sumter that will commence next week closely coincides with today’s National Manufacturing Day.

Those efforts are more complicated than it is difficult to get Duct tape residue off without lighter fluid.

A lot goes into running a chemical plant. It deals daily with high-hazard solvents that must be managed without being able to see the material. Safety systems must be followed, permits adhered to, training ready to be employed.

“If you don’t maintain a pump correctly in a flammable environment, you have a problem,” Hoffman said.

Quality control in the labs, lab technicians to keep it running, chemical and mechanical engineers all must have technical training and expertise to keep the plant running smoothly. Even maintenance employees have technical certifications.

“The primary products we deal with are exceptionally difficult to purify, and it’s severely capital-intensive,” said Chris Adams, vice president of sales.

To put it simply, the work they do – purifying material used by the medical and pharmaceutical industry to a point where it’s good enough quality to be reused by the medical and pharmaceutical industry – is hard.

“When you’re talking about biomedical, if they don’t produce drugs and get them to market, people’s health is at risk,” Adams said. “They’re very concerned with making sure that material is flowing back to them.”

What they do is complicated, but for Mike Clumpner, the decision to put all of NOVA’s eggs in Sumter’s basket was not.

After its “boom times with the textile industry,” Sumter went through a period of downturns, the owner of NOVA said. Coming out of that now, he said, Sumter is “forward-thinking and aggressive.”

“They have people here with a work ethic and who like to work, like to be responsible citizens, and you don’t get that everywhere,” Clumpner said.

He said there may be “spots” of growth and opportunity for manufacturing companies to land, but “this is a prime spot.”

He took those customers downtown for dinner, where he said Sidebar, which serves barbecue and offers a wide selection of bourbon, stood out to one of the women there who was from Dallas.

What they do may be complicated, but the lifestyle in Sumter attracted one of NOVA’s premier process engineers to stick around.

Chris Carano graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State last year and moved to Sumter for the job at NOVA. Already, he’s involved in a church and has leadership positions. He participates with Sumter Economic Development, which helps foster relationships between businesses and the community. He recently bought a house.

“It’s crazy. In my first year here, I’ve done more things than people probably have done in 10 years elsewhere,” he said. “I’ve been able to do what I’ve wanted to do because it’s available here.”

What he does is complicated, but NOVA’s leadership is pushing him to charge forward. Longtime industry employees had to work a decade before being tasked with some of the projects Carano has completed.

Usually, Carano said, he’d be looking over someone’s shoulder for years at a larger corporation. At NOVA, he is provided with resources and tasked with meaningful projects. He designed and built a new distillation column that was completed a couple weeks ago.

What NOVA does is complicated, but its impact is easy to see, even if the gunk in the pipes isn’t.

Carano is spending his Saturday at the second-annual eSTEAM Festival, a free event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on South Main Street in downtown Sumter that is geared toward kids of all ages, featuring hands-on activities highlighting dozens of local companies and their connection to science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Carano built a mini distillation column. His replica is clear so kids can see what’s inside and how it will appear to get cleaner from chamber to chamber.

Just as NOVA purifies solvent to recycle back to companies, maybe Carano will continue the cycle of finding that next generation to push forward.

Credit: The Sumter Item

Sumter building to attract new industry, officials say

Sumter building to attract new industry, officials say

SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. — State, county and city officials are among a group of people working to bring new industry to Sumter.

A new spec building is a part of their vision for growth. It will be 50,000 sq. ft. (expandable to 100,000 sq. ft.) and located in the Black River Industrial Park.

Once built, the vacant space will be a location for a company to open up in town.

“We’ve had buildings developed in this manner in the past and they’ve all been occupied, … put people to work and created some new tax revenue for the community,” Jay Schwedler, President and CEO of the Sumter Economic Development Board, TheLINK and the Sumter Smarter Growth Initiative said. “The number one priority for us is to make sure that we are creating bountiful, good paying jobs.”

This will be the fifth building of its kind in the county, according to Schwedler, who says they expect to break-ground on the project in the next two to three weeks.

“We’re just really excited to get this thing underway,” Schwedler said. “We anticipate that a development, end user could come in and retrofit the facility in a matter of a couple months and have their product to market within six-months-time.”

It is possible that the space will be filled with a business in the advanced manufacturing arena, but they have not yet confirmed a particular buyer.

Credit: WLTX 19

Local Economic Development Professionals Earn Prestigious Certification

Local Economic Development Professionals Earn Prestigious Certification

Brian Rauschenbach and Eliza Buxton of Sumter Economic Development and TheLINK Economic Development Alliance have both earned the prestigious title of SC Certified Economic Developer (SCCED). Brian and Eliza were two out of only 10 professionals throughout SC that were selected for the SC Economic Developers’ Association’s Advanced Symposium which covered topics such as negotiations, product and infrastructure development, site due diligence, deal structuring, incentives, marketing and communication strategies, and other topics relevant to the economic development profession. Each session throughout the robust year-long program involved graded exams followed by a final case study which had to be analyzed and presented before a group of certified economic development professionals. Brian and Eliza join Jay Schwedler as SC Certified Economic Developers within Sumter Economic Development and TheLINK Economic Development Alliance.

Recent Lee County High School graduate is named tech champion

Recent Lee County High School graduate is named tech champion

Lavern Harry, a 2019 Lee Central High School graduate, was recently named the 2019 Technology Champion for the Santee-Lynches Region.

He earned the honor for his academic and community service endeavors.

As the winner, Harry received $500 to be used toward post-graduate expenses and a South Carolina Department of Education Office of Career & Technology certificate.

Harry also attended the Education and Business Summit, a Career and Technology Education state conference hosted by the Office of Career and Technology Education at SCDE in Greenville held June 24-27.

EBS is designed to provide learning opportunities in the area of Career and Technology Education, expand practices for use in the classroom or in administrative roles, create plans to groom South Carolina students for college and career readiness and help participants to develop stronger CATE courses and programs.

Credit: The Sumter Item

SC Ports Graduates 25 Port Ambassadors

SC Ports Graduates 25 Port Ambassadors

CHARLESTON, SC – JUNE 19, 2019 – South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) recognizes 25 delegates for completing the 2018-2019 Port Ambassador Program, which provides participants a deep understanding of the connection between the Port of Charleston and South Carolina’s thriving business community.

The 10-month Port Ambassador Program immerses participants in port operations through educational sessions and tours of oceanside terminals, inland ports, cruise vessels and manufacturing operations around the state, showing firsthand the Port’s $53 billion annual economic impact on the state.

The program also shows ambassadors how the maritime, transportation, port and manufacturing sectors intersect and spur economic development in South Carolina.

“This program introduced us to the bigger picture, which is that 1 in 11 jobs in South Carolina is tied to the Port,” Port Ambassador Tiffany Santagati said.

The ambassadors celebrated their graduation June 6 aboard the new homeported Carnival Sunshine in Charleston Harbor.

Santagati, executive senior vice president of talent and culture at Southern First Bank in Greenville, said the ambassadors program gave her insight into the Port’s statewide operations, emphasizing how many S.C. industries depend on the Port of Charleston to thrive.

“I have lived in South Carolina my entire life, and until I participated in the Port Ambassador Program, I did not fully understand the impact the Port makes on employment and the movement of goods throughout the state,” Santagati said. “It was fascinating to see how it is all connected.”

Port Ambassador Alex Fournil, owner and principal of Vista Insurance Group in Columbia, said the group’s visit to BMW Manufacturing Co. and Inland Port Greer stands out as an example of the Port of Charleston’s vital role in moving goods throughout the state to global markets.

“Hearing directly from BMW how important it is to have Inland Port Greer and how it gives them a competitive advantage was really amazing,” Fournil said.

The Port Ambassador Program also creates a networking opportunity for ambassadors; participants live throughout South Carolina and come from a variety of industries and backgrounds.

“The Port Ambassador Program engages a diverse group of South Carolina leaders to learn from experts in the maritime industry and port-dependent businesses. It gives them an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the Port’s critical role in the state,” said Jordi Yarborough, SCPA’s senior vice president of external affairs. “Ambassadors also build relationships and create strong connections with other professionals they might not otherwise meet.”

SCPA launched the Port Ambassador Program in 2016 to increase public awareness and understanding of SCPA’s strategic plan and foster support for the Port’s key statewide activities.

The Port Ambassador Class of 2019:
Ann Angermeier, Upstate Workforce Board, Spartanburg
John Brand III, Stifel Financial Corp., Florence
Van Cato, Office of Senator Lindsey Graham, Greenville
Andrew Cook, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Hilton Head Island
Christine Crawford, D&G Management, North Augusta
Johnny Cribb, Berkeley County, Moncks Corner
Suzanne Dickerson, SC Council on Competitiveness, Columbia
Alexander Fournil, Vista Insurance Group, Columbia
Jamey Goldin, Nelson Mullins, Columbia
Sara Hazzard, SC Manufacturers Alliance, Columbia
Angie Leidinger, Clemson University, Columbia
Thomas Lorenzo, Domtar, Fort Mill
Bill McCarthy, Charleston Gate Co., Charleston
Sunny Philips, SC Chamber of Commerce, Columbia,
Tony Pope, State Farm Insurance, Summerville
Buddy Pough, South Carolina State University, Orangeburg
Brian Rauschenbach, Sumter Economic Development and TheLINK Alliance, Sumter
Anne Smith Reid, Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired – Charleston, Charleston
Tiffany Santagati, Southern First Bank, Greenville
Mark Schmidt, Intermodal Container Logistics – NA, Decatur, Ga.
Steve Sydow, Charleston
Tom Trouche, ServisFirst Bank, Charleston
Marlon Walters, Bank of America, Elgin
Tom Winslow, Goldfinch Winslow Attorneys at Law, Murrells Inlet
Jason Zacher, Upstate Chamber Coalition, Greenville

Participants are selected from nominations by the Review and Oversight Commission on the State Ports Authority, the SCPA Board of Directors and Senior Management Team. Each program is limited to 25 ambassadors.

About South Carolina Ports Authority
South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), established by the state’s General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport and intermodal facilities in Charleston, Dillon, Georgetown and Greer. As an economic development engine for the state, Port operations facilitate 187,200 statewide jobs and generate nearly $53 billion annual economic activity. SCPA is soon to be home to the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet, and the Port is an industry leader in delivering speed-to-market, seamless processes and flexibility to ensure reliable operations, big ship handling, efficient market reach and environmental responsibility. For more information on SCPA, please visit

Credit: SC Ports Authority



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

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.