Celebrating Sumter: Annual Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce retreat focuses on growth, successes and how to move forward

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 1/23/19

Amid a weekend snowstorm that slammed the Northeast, nearly 200 of the community's top leaders escaped to the beach to examine Sumter's growth and determine the next steps needed to continue the trend up.

The Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce …

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Celebrating Sumter: Annual Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce retreat focuses on growth, successes and how to move forward

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Amid a weekend snowstorm that slammed the Northeast, nearly 200 of the community's top leaders escaped to the beach to examine Sumter's growth and determine the next steps needed to continue the trend up. The Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce held its annual retreat at Hilton Head Island on Jan. 18-20, where the "Celebrate Sumter" theme could be seen in topics ranging from presentations on retail and hospitality growth, local industry and higher education updates to economic development, law enforcement's community interaction and electric services provider updates. "We still have work to do, but it's time to celebrate recent successes to further build on the positive momentum taking place in Sumter," said Dennis Turner, chairman-elect of the Chamber's Board of Directors and senior large account executive for Duke Energy in South Carolina. Turner said on Saturday that being purposely positive can do wonders for any group, from an individual to a community, and that it is sometimes easy to miss that opportunity. "When you are in the midst of change, sometimes you don't see what's going on around you," he said. Here are five top takeaways from the weekend, in no particular order. 1. Retail and hospitality growth Howie Owens, Sumter's downtown development manager and assistant to the city manager, reviewed an array of what used to be abandoned buildings that have been renovated and now host businesses such as Central Carolina Technical College's downtown campus, Sidewalk Caf , Naomi and Warner and Subway. That revitalization and growth has spread to areas of Sumter such as Broad Street, where intersections like Alice Drive that used to be either empty, abandoned or run down now feature bustling shopping centers and dining establishments. Since 2000, hotel brands like Marriott, Hyatt Place and Tru by Hilton have found reason to invest in Sumter, bringing the number of rooms from about 1,000 to 1,441, according to Shelley Kile, communications director for the city. Sumter's 28 hotels are consistently 62 percent occupied, not including cabins at Poinsett State Park, Airbnb rentals, a bed and breakfast and short-term apartments. The military accounts for about 30 percent of that occupancy, Kile said, and tourism, especially sports tourism from tennis and baseball/softball tournaments, is also a driving factor. 2. Economic development Brian Rauschenbach, Sumter Economic Development project manager, said there has been $1.78 billion invested into Sumter since 2007, bringing 5,563 new jobs. He said the average annual salary for a manufacturing job in Sumter is about $49,000, a number that has risen from about $35,000 in 2009.

Sumter's per-capita income is growing at a faster rate than the state, with Sumter's wage growth at 2.5 percent from 2009 to 2016 and South Carolina's at 2.4 percent.

3. Education reform, education reform, education reform

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said while he has heard those words before at the capitol in Columbia, he has hope this year that the General Assembly will produce meaningful education reform. He said legislators have been talking about giving teachers a 5 percent raise.

Other speakers at the retreat echoed the need to improve South Carolina's and Sumter's public education and higher education system, with Sumter School District Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm discussing the Partners in Education Adopt a School initiative.

There are nine schools in need of a local business or industry partner, which means that company provides resources and time to the teachers and students in the path and method of their choosing to promote jobs and student achievement.

Those schools are: Cherryvale Elementary, Kingsbury Elementary, Oakland Primary, Pocalla Springs Elementary, Shaw Heights Elementary, Wilder Elementary, Brewington Academy, Sumter Career and Technology Center and Sumter Adult Education, according to information distributed at the retreat. All three high schools in the district - Sumter, Lakewood and Crestwood - need an additional partner. They are already partnered with Central Carolina Technical College.

During the retreat, the Education Committee of the Chamber, which focuses on partnerships with the district to make sure students are aware of "rewarding career opportunities here in Sumter," held a pledge drive to fund the purchase of commemorative coins for students who participate in one of the group's learning forums. The drive raised more than $5,200.

4. A new addition to Swan Lake-Iris Gardens

Sumter's Grainger McKoy, a renowned artist and sculptor, is working on a 24-foot swan sculpture that will be permanently displayed in front of Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, according to Mayor Joe McElveen. The piece is expected to be finished this year.

5. Enhancing Palmetto Tennis Center

McElveen also said there is a goal to build red clay tennis courts at Palmetto Tennis Center, where world-class tournaments are held with competitors including top-100 Taylor Townsend.