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FLORENCE, S.C. (WPDE) — According to a news release, a $100 million behavioral health facility will be built in Florence.The South Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS), South Carolina Dept. of Mental Health (SCDMH), McLeod Health, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health), Francis Marion University (FMU) and HopeHealth announced the facility on Thursday.The new innovative facility will serve as a regional behavioral health hub and include a combination of triage, crisis stabilization, teleheal...
FLORENCE, S.C. (WPDE) — According to a news release, a $100 million behavioral health facility will be built in Florence.
The South Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS), South Carolina Dept. of Mental Health (SCDMH), McLeod Health, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health), Francis Marion University (FMU) and HopeHealth announced the facility on Thursday.
The new innovative facility will serve as a regional behavioral health hub and include a combination of triage, crisis stabilization, telehealth, outpatient and inpatient services that will expand much-needed behavioral health resources in the Pee Dee region.
The release said that once built, the hub will occupy the site of an MUSC-owned property currently known as the Cedar Tower Campus on East Cedar Street in Florence.
The project was coordinated through an advisory committee convened by SCDHHS Director Robby Kerr.
"This first-of-its-kind facility is an enormous step forward in addressing the current and future needs of South Carolina's behavioral health system," said Governor Henry McMaster. "Through the collaboration of our state's universities, hospital systems and state agencies, we connect the pipeline between our education system, workforce and public health needs, leading to improved behavioral health outcomes in our state."
"This type of collaborative effort is the only way to transform the delivery of behavioral health services into a continuum of care that improves efficiency and access to these vital services," Kerr said. "We appreciate the partnership exhibited through this effort, including the financial support provided by the South Carolina General Assembly, and hope to develop a model of care from this innovative new facility that can be used in the other regions of the state."
The state's investment in the project is through funds appropriated by the South Carolina General Assembly after years of work to foster collaboration and secure funding by South Carolina Senator Hugh K. Leatherman.
Officials said the new facility will be named after Senator Leatherman.
As a first-of-its-kind hub, the collaborative pilot is poised to offer a new model for communities throughout the state to address the growing need for behavioral health services.
"Through historic investment and collaboration, the people of the Pee Dee region will soon have a first-of-its-kind, innovative facility to address the growing need for behavioral health services," said Speaker Murrell Smith. "This new facility will not only serve the people of the region, but also serve as an example to the rest of our state and beyond as an exceptional model of care. I'm appreciative of all the parties who came together to make this transformational aspiration a reality, especially the late Senator Leatherman, whose vision for this far preceded any of our plans."
"This historical collaboration will have a monumental impact on the mental health services which will be more readily available for the Pee Dee area and beyond," said Mayor Ervin. "This collaboration will help to create a more comprehensive healthcare hub of the Pee Dee."
"We are excited to partner with these public-private colleagues to make these services available as quickly as possible and have been supportive of finding innovative ways to serve some of our most vulnerable citizens in this way for some time," said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. "Access to this kind of care is of paramount concern when we consider the economic and societal impact of mental illness, substance abuse and other behavioral health concerns.
"The need and investment are urgent for escalating behavioral health treatment needs and safety," said McLeod Health CEO Donna Isgett. "it will also help reduce over-utilization of the state's emergency rooms for psychiatric patients who need another level of care, as well as focus on bridging the gaps in mental health services for patients of all ages in the Pee Dee."
"Senator Hugh Leatherman had long envisioned a facility of this type in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina where our health providers and educational institutions would come together collaboratively," said FMU President Fred Carter. "At FMU, we're preparing Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and Doctors of Psychology to provide practitioners needed in this crucial field."
The new facility will include:
"As one of the state's largest community health centers, we have invested significant resources into the integration of a multi-disciplinary behavioral health program, including psychiatrists, psychologists and behavioral health counselors," said HopeHealth CEO Carl Humphries. "This investment proved to be a critical necessity during the pandemic, when issues like isolation and fear of the unknown lead to larger mental health concerns for our patients."
"Insufficient behavioral health resources are not a problem limited to the Pee Dee region," said SCDMH Acting Director Robert M. Bank, M.D. "This partnership between local healthcare systems and state agencies will create a true continuum of behavioral health services so that citizens of the Pee Dee in need receive the right treatment at the right time in their local community. This type of collaboration not only seeks to improve services but could also serve as a model that could be duplicated elsewhere in the state."
Construction will begin in 2024.
FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Ground was broken Wednesday morning in Florence County for a new, state-of-the-art electric vehicle battery factory that is expected to create nearly 1,200 jobs.South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and other state and local leaders are attending the ceremony for the 1.5-million-square-foot plant, which is being built at the intersection of Estate Road and East Old Marion Highway across from Wilson High School.“Our future, our success depends on three main pillars of our success,” McMaster...
FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Ground was broken Wednesday morning in Florence County for a new, state-of-the-art electric vehicle battery factory that is expected to create nearly 1,200 jobs.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and other state and local leaders are attending the ceremony for the 1.5-million-square-foot plant, which is being built at the intersection of Estate Road and East Old Marion Highway across from Wilson High School.
“Our future, our success depends on three main pillars of our success,” McMaster said. “That’s an education strength, our economic strength and our environmental strength. And all three of those pillars are wrapped together like roots of a tree. If ones missing, the other two can’t hold it up.”
The plant, which is being built by AESC, a Japanese battery technology company, is expected to open in 2026 and created 1,170 jobs, officials said.
“Today, South Carolina is proud to celebrate AESC as the company embarks on a historic chapter in our state,” McMaster said. “Florence County has been ripe for an investment of this magnitude — one that will transform local communities and create generational wealth for South Carolinians. The groundbreaking for AESC’s battery cell gigafactory is a landmark moment in the evolution of South Carolina’s rapidly expanding electric vehicle industry.”
Jeff Deaton, AESC’s U.S. managing director, said the plant is another milestone for his company.
“AESC continues to be a global leader in developing next generation EV battery technology, and we’re proud to be further growing our capacity to build those products in U.S. facilities, accelerating the transition to clean energy transportation,” Deaton said.
Deaton also said the decision to invest in Florence County and in South Carolina was an easy one.
“SC is home to 500 automotive companies and is the number one exporter of passenger vehicles and also the number one producer of tires in the United States,” Deaton said. “So, our decision to invest in SC was an easy one.”
The plant will be a major boost for the region, Florence County Council Chairman Willard Dorriety said.
“AESC’s groundbreaking marks a historic day for Florence County and its residents, as it will bring an abundance of high paying jobs to our community,” he said. “We know AESC will be a vital and active partner in the County for decades to come.”
Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin agreed.
“We are ecstatic about AESC’s decision to locate in Florence County and are honored to be celebrating this groundbreaking today alongside the community leaders whose collaboration made this project possible,” Myers Ervin said.
According to a news release, the 30 GWh battery plant builds on AESC’s existing battery manufacturing network that includes a plant in operation in Tennessee and another plant under construction in Kentucky.
“Collectively, AESC’s U.S. plants upon completion will provide up to 70 GWh capacity annually, powering the shift to electric vehicles with U.S.-made batteries and components,” the news release said.
The Florence location will support the company’s partnership with BMW Group, which was announced in October 2022. Under that agreement, AESC will provide battery cells for next- generation electric vehicles produced at BMW’s Spartanburg plant, the news release said.
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Aundrea Gibbons joined the News13 team in May 2023 after graduating from Clemson University with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and communication. Aundrea is a Marion native and graduated as salutatorian in 2019. Follow Aundrea on Twitter and read more of her work here.
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Dennis Bright is a digital producer at News13. Dennis is a West Virginia native and graduate of Marshall University. He has won copyediting and journalism awards in West Virginia and Ohio. Follow Dennis on Twitter and read more of his work here.
FLORENCE — The city of Florence is set to adopt a comprehensive plan that prioritizes rapid but responsible growth and paves the way for an expanded downtown, reinvestment in local neighborhoods and a growing housing supply.The comprehensive plan will serve as officials’ guiding document as they make decisions in the next 10 years.“It’s our Bible. It’s our guide for all the work that we do,” Assistant City Manager Clint Moore said. “It is important for us to set out realistic goals and ...
FLORENCE — The city of Florence is set to adopt a comprehensive plan that prioritizes rapid but responsible growth and paves the way for an expanded downtown, reinvestment in local neighborhoods and a growing housing supply.
The comprehensive plan will serve as officials’ guiding document as they make decisions in the next 10 years.
“It’s our Bible. It’s our guide for all the work that we do,” Assistant City Manager Clint Moore said. “It is important for us to set out realistic goals and a timeline and a map on how to do that.”
The plan builds on the city’s previous successes, Moore said, and does not significantly depart from the strategies employed in the past decade, which saw significant growth in Florence’s downtown. Much of the comprehensive plan focuses on expanding the strategies that worked downtown into neighboring areas.
This year’s 173-page document is just Florence’s second-ever comprehensive plan. The city only formed a Planning Department in the late 2000s after it broke away from Florence County’s Planning Department.
Development of the master plan began in 2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Moore said. It was developed by city staff and consultants who compiled information from previous plans, city officials and public meetings.
In May, City Council members voted to approve the plan when it was introduced, and the council will likely officially adopt it in June.
One of the top priorities included in Florence’s comprehensive plan is growth, both in population and in land area, in order to continue the city’s economic development.
By 2040, the plan estimates Florence will have a population of between 45,000 and 50,000 people. That number could be greater, depending on the city’s success in attracting and retaining residents.
To encourage growth, the plan recommends officials continue annexing property on the outskirts of town while also annexing so-called “doughnut hole” properties that are within the city but not technically a part of it.
While annexation is a priority, the comprehensive plan also calls for the city to balance outward growth with targeted revitalization of core neighborhoods already in the city.
“We’ve made a major emphasis on our existing neighborhoods, how to revitalize them and how to do that appropriately so you’re not displacing or causing gentrification or anything like that,” Moore said.
Included in the plan are a range of policy options the city could use to encourage development of blighted areas, including some of the same strategies the city used to revitalize downtown.
Another focus is equitable growth. Officials have touted targeted investment in areas that have been historically neglected. At a recent panel to discuss downtown development, Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin said encouraging development “across the track” is a priority, both for quality of life and economic opportunity
“If you’re ashamed of any area of your city, that means you need to address that, because if you don’t want the businesses to come and look at a certain area, that’s saying that you’re not prepared for them,” Ervin said.
The plan recommends a comprehensive review of city policies and city zoning with an eye on creating more equitable outcomes for low-income areas.
Florence’s infrastructure is another focus of the comprehensive plan. At the top of the list is the city’s stormwater systems, a common cause for concern among residents.
Frequent flooding led officials to pursue development of a new stormwater master plan in recent years, an update to the 1970s plan the city has been relying on. Public meetings to collect feedback on the plan finished up at the beginning of May.
The comprehensive plan recommends officials seriously pursue the suggestions included in the plan and invest in infrastructure improvements across the city’s stormwater management system.
The plan also identifies “exasperation” with the state of Florence’s main corridors, citing an “inability to control corridor quality just outside the city limits, along with the challenge of having so many older areas in need of revitalization along Florence’s main roads and highways.”
Corridors such as Palmetto Street and Irby Street act as gateways into Florence and can quickly shape first impressions of the city, potentially discouraging investment or visitors’ interest in the area if they aren’t addressed.
The plan recommends creating a comprehensive approach to develop the corridors, fund streetscape enhancements and install entrance features and public branding.
Regarding transportation, the plan highlights needed infrastructure improvements for non-vehicle transportation, such as bicycle and foot traffic. The plan recommends changes to roadways that will make travel safer and more accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Moore said that housing is often included in the growth or infrastructure sections of a comprehensive plan. In Florence’s plan, housing is its own section. That was intentional.
In the last decade, the city lost economic development opportunities because of disrepair downtown and in some of the surrounding neighborhoods. While downtown has seen revitalization, some neighborhoods are still in need of investment, Moore said.
The city is strapped for housing, according to the plan, and in order to accommodate a growing workforce, the city will need to develop a larger quantity and diversity of housing options for different incomes and circumstances — rental options, single-family homes, detached townhomes — all at different price points.
To develop the necessary housing, the city may need to construct housing, as it has already done, create incentives for development or work directly with developers, according to the plan.
While the plan calls for a wide variety of housing options, Moore said the city wants to encourage homeownership by incentivizing residents to buy homes and eliminating barriers to becoming a homeowner. The plan notes that homeownership can lead to a deeper and more long lasting investment in the neighborhood and the broader community.
FLORENCE — The streets of downtown Florence were empty in 2011, almost as empty as the buildings.“It was actually a ghost town,” said Ella Frazier, a downtown retailer. “The only thing that was actually there was a barbershop, a beauty shop and Lady Kids, a retail shop down the street. That was it on Evans Street.”Frazier has watched the growth over the past 12 years. Downtown has transformed from empty spaces and plenty of parking places to eight blocks of retailers, restaurants and bars, offices ...
FLORENCE — The streets of downtown Florence were empty in 2011, almost as empty as the buildings.
“It was actually a ghost town,” said Ella Frazier, a downtown retailer. “The only thing that was actually there was a barbershop, a beauty shop and Lady Kids, a retail shop down the street. That was it on Evans Street.”
Frazier has watched the growth over the past 12 years. Downtown has transformed from empty spaces and plenty of parking places to eight blocks of retailers, restaurants and bars, offices and pocket parks featuring sculptures and other public art installations.
Cars fill the parking spots, and people stroll the sidewalks.
It can be difficult to find parking in front of stores and restaurants, Frazier said. Fortunately, the city built a four-story free parking deck at the edge of the historic downtown.
“It’s been exciting to see the growth over these past years. I love to tell them it’s not over yet,” Frazier said.
In 2009, Frazier founded Ella’s Boutique Etcete’ra on North Irby Street, a major artery that connects north and south Florence.
Electrical problems forced her to seek another location.
She drove around Florence for four months but couldn’t find a place she liked or could afford. Finally, she walked around historic downtown and noticed a for-rent sign at 169 W. Evans St.
The owner wanted a five-year lease. Frazier didn’t want to commit to more than two. After a few months of negotiations, the owner decided to sell the building to Frazier and financed the sale.
“I was the first boutique there, and everything started building around me,” she said.
The Lake City native moved to New York when she was 16. She lived there for 36 years. She returned to Florence in 2001. After earning a master’s degree in health education, she sought a job in that field for three years. Potential employers kept saying they were looking for someone with more experience.
Health care was Frazier’s first option. Fashion was her second, and she made plans to open a boutique.
Fate stepped in to delay her boutique plans.
Someone asked if she was looking for a bed-and-breakfast location as she was touring Florence to find a boutique site.
Frazier wasn’t, but she was directed to the Francis P. Holman house at 111 Kuker St. near downtown.
She and her husband, David, liked the Holman house. They bought it and converted it into the Ambrias Garden Manor Bed and Breakfast.
In 2009, she restarted her pursuit of a boutique — first with her Irby Street location. The move to the former downtown J.C. Penney store came in November 2011.
Today, Ella’s Boutique Etcete’ra is filled with dresses, women’s suits, jewelry and hats.
Customers call her at all hours to make appointments. Customers travel from as far away as Georgia, Charleston and Greenville to find the perfect outfit for any occasion, she said.
“I call it a one-stop shop because women can come in and find anything they need for whatever occasion they need,” Frazier said. “Women don’t come in my store just to shop. ... They became friends and talk to each other. ... It’s a good time. It’s women coming together and helping each other.”
Frazier credits the city and the Florence Downtown Development Corp. with the rebirth of downtown.
The Downtown Historic District began its decline in the 1960s as shopping malls became the rage.
In 1976, a downtown renewal project was launched to update storefronts to attract shoppers. The project attempted to create a covered concrete promenade attached to the historic storefronts to attract mall shoppers.
It didn’t work. The promenade was removed in the 1980s. Three other revitalization attempts failed.
A 2006 downtown master plan and citywide structure plan — “Florence ... Cultural Heart of the Pee Dee Region” — created the groundwork for the rebirth of downtown.
It identified downtown as a key to Florence’s growth and ability to attract industries and workers to the city. It focused on creating a pedestrian-friendly area with trees, open spaces and revitalization of historic downtown buildings.
The plan also created Downtown Florence Renaissance Inc., a nonprofit corporation with board members from the city, county, Chamber of Commerce and the community.
Downtown Florence Renaissance morphed into the Florence Downtown Development Corp. in the city’s 2010 downtown development master plan. The board was revamped to include members in real estate, banking, fundraising and business management.
It also was charged with helping new businesses develop business plans and apply for grants and tax credits to renovate the historic downtown buildings.
City leaders, stakeholders and community focus groups created the plan, which addressed housing, public spaces, employment, mobility, infrastructure and economic development.
“Concurrently, the City should begin to put in place the programs and institutional structures leading to a sustainable climate of reinvestment,” according to the 2010 downtown master plan update.
In 2013, a group of local investors purchased a building at 126 W. Evans St. They converted it into Hotel Florence and Victor’s restaurant. As historic downtown’s first anchor, it was a major catalyst to change public perception.
In the decade since, downtown has seen more than $300 million in public and private investment.
Residents and visitors can see the results of that investment.
A stroll in the eight-block historic district will take you past 10 public art displays, including statues of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax at the downtown splash pad, a kinetic sculpture called the Big Bleu Birdnanna and a sculpture of William H. Johnson, a world-renowned African American artist and Florence native.
FLORENCE COUNTY, S.C. (WPDE) — A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Wednesday morning for a Japanese battery plant along the 1300 block of Estate Road near Wilson High School in Florence.The plant will employ more than 1,100 workers with an average salary of around $65,000 a year, according to officials.South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, South Carolina Secretary of State of C...
FLORENCE COUNTY, S.C. (WPDE) — A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Wednesday morning for a Japanese battery plant along the 1300 block of Estate Road near Wilson High School in Florence.
The plant will employ more than 1,100 workers with an average salary of around $65,000 a year, according to officials.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, South Carolina Secretary of State of Commerce Harry Lightsey, Managing Director of AESC Jeff Deaton, as well as other state, city and county leaders will be on hand for the event.
Florence County Economic Development CEO Gregg Robinson calls it one of the biggest economic development projects in the county's history.
"For the North Eastern section of the entire state, this is the biggest economic development project that we have ever had. It ranks in the top three for economic development projects for the state of South Carolina. For the Northeastern strategic alliance in our region, this is an opportunity for us to grow our tax base. To advance qualities of life. And employ future generations in a brand new technology. It’s a milestone," said Robinson.
The state will provide water, sewer and a newly built road from Highway 327 to Estate Road, as an incentive, for the plant.
"Incentives are the critical part of the package. But it’s not the only part. But you have to have it ready. And so, our infrastructure is being provided by the state of South Carolina. With water and sewer upgrades. Directly behind us, you see the water tabs that are going in from the city. We will have a new road that’s coming from 327 back all the way to Koppers. So, we are dedicating all of this infrastructure to developing 950 acre industrial Park. Where AESC will be the anchor tenant. And that's very important. We will have a number of suppliers. And a number of companies that will support AESC in the next 20 years," said Robinson.
AESC will supply technology-leading battery cells to be used in the next-generation electric vehicle models produced at the BMW Group’s Plant in Spartanburg. The advanced battery format will result in 20% more energy density than the current generation, reduce charging time and increase range and efficiency for electric vehicles by 30%.
AESC has 5,600 employees and 12 manufacturing sites in Japan, the U.S., the U.K., France, Spain and China.
In the past 12 years, AESC has produced power batteries for more than 800,000 electric vehicles in 59 countries, achieving a record of 'zero critical battery malfunction, according to a news release.