GSA Business Report - February 2023

Page 1

Billion-dollar baby

Peace Center has more than a cultural impact on the Palmetto State.

Page 4

135 and Going Strong

Sweet awakening

First-time entrepreneur develops Coffee Candy to stay alert and out of rest stops on the road.

Page 9

Electric curriculum

University creates school to plug into auto industry’s move to electric vehicles.

Page 10

Though modest by most numbers, South Carolina has a place in TV and movies.

Page 2


Upfront 2

SC Biz News Briefs 3

In Focus: Hospitality and Tourism 11

LIST: Hotels 18

BONUS LIST: Alternative and outdoor event venues 19

At Work 20

Viewpoint 23

Deep roots, high rise

Decades after starting with a modest motel, the Auro Hotels portfolio includes the best names in the business.

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VOLUME 26 NUMBER 2 ■ GSABUSINESS.COM FEBRUARY 2023 ■ $2.25 Part of the network
Stephen Navarro is at the helm of The Furman Co. as it marks 135 years of commercial development — and looks ahead to more. Page 6

On location in South Carolina

What was filmed where?

The S.C. Film Commission lists many of the feature films and television shows produced in South Carolina. Here is a small sampling of movies, television and streaming productions filmed in South Carolina.

Charleston region

The Notebook

Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Outer Banks

The Righteous Gemstones

Columbia region


Accidental Love

Even without the robust film incentives of a state like Georgia, South Carolina’s inherit natural beauty and historical legacy lends itself to some desired filming locations for popular movies, television and independent productions.

Recently, Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant was listed as the No. 1 filming location in the state, and that’s not surprising, given the architecture and pristine beauty of the 738-acre plantation and gardens in Charleston County.

The S.C. Film Commission helps production teams and site selectors find perfect on location spots in the Palmetto State for whatever look and feel they want to capture on film and video. The agency maintains a database with images and details about different locations across the state to help filmmakers decide if they might want to film in the state, and they offer hands-on matchmaking services to help locate any special production needs.

With more than 9,700 pre-registered locations, the Film Commission has created a treasure trove full of interesting places to see and explore even if you aren’t filming your next blockbuster. A breakdown of locations from that database shows some of the signature locations, including the numbers in each county.


Greenville region


Coupe de Ville


Haunted Trail

Florence/Myrtle Beach

The Bay

The Strangers


Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

Rock Hill

The Patriot

Gospel Hill Asylum

The Rage: Carrie II

Beaufort/Hilton Head

Forrest Gump

The Program

The Last Confederate

G.I. Jane

The Big Chill

On location in the Palmetto State

With a database of more than 9,700 locations across South Carolina, the S.C. Film Commission helps match film productions with scene-setting locations, architecture and script demands. An analysis of the database show how locations compare across Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry and the rest of the state

Lowcountry: 46.7%*

Midlands: 10%

Upstate: 7.1%

Other Locations: 36.2%

Source: Analysis of S.C. Film Commission location database | *Percentage of 9,735 sites across South Carolina.

“I have seen these leaders achieve goals, be praised and honored for them, then reminisced about, often with cloudy recollection, or even forgotten by a new generation of young Greenvillians not familiar with the development of our community and its recent history.”
— Stephen Navarro, president and CEO, The Furman Co.
1,000 0 2,000 3,000 4,000
HBO film crews set up a shot for The Righteous Gemstones with actors Danny McBride (left) and Adam Devine in the At Home parking lot in North Charleston. (Photo/Fred Norris, HBO)

SC Biz News Briefs

USC unveils $1B ‘game changer’ project to develop area around football stadium

Big changes could be coming to Williams-Brice Stadium and other locations around Columbia as part of an elaborate $1 billion development project announced Tuesday, Feb. 8 by the University of South Carolina.

University officials announced they will begin to seek proposals from developers for a massive project that could eventually include improvements to the stadium as well as new developments on property the university owns elsewhere in the city.

Officials estimate the total cost of the development project could reach $1 billion and hope to raise funds through private donations.

The university has started a process to “determine the feasibility of a major modernization of Williams-Brice Stadium” and said the project could also include development of more than 800 acres of undeveloped property owned by USC and its foundation located near the Congaree River and west of the existing Long Family Football Operations Facility, according to a news release.

The university has opened what is known as a “Request for Information” process to identify potential developers for the project, and officials said the results of the RFI are due back to them by the beginning of March.

Manufacturer of street-legal golf cars expands to accommodate rapid growth

A Charleston-based manufacturer of electric vehicles and golf carts has expanded for the third time in three years.

Bintelli LLC more than doubled its space, going from 65,000 square feet to 174,000 square feet, making room for growing demand for its products and the employees needed to fill that demand.

A company spokesperson said Bintelli started 2021 with 24 employees finished 2022 with 102. The company added eight more workers in the last month and expect to add at least 20 more by the end of the year, he said.

The company has tripled the size of its dealer network in the last year, accounting for some of the rise in demand. Its product also was ranked by Golf Cart Resource as 2022’s Best Low-Speed Vehicle and Best Street-Legal Golf Cart in a consumer poll.

“This expansion is another step in solidifying ourselves at the forefront of the industry,” Jason Perske, vice president of Bintelli, said in a news release.

FTC proposes nationwide ban on non-competes

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a rule that would ban noncompetes for almost all workers in the U.S. Our expert panel will discuss what the rule says, what the impact will be on employers, what the timeline might be for implementation, the implications for non-disclosure agreements and other restrictive covenants, and what alternatives the FTC is considering. Join

March 2, 2023 | 3:00 PM EST 3 February 2023
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The proposal would see development of 800 acres of previously unutilized land around the University of South Carolina’s football stadium. (Photo/Provided)
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Peace Center delivers more than culture to South Carolina

South Carolina’s Media Engine for Economic Growth

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The Peace Center in Greenville has made an economic impact of $1.1 billion on the state, according to an economic impact study conducted by the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business.

The Peace Center has contributed more than $80 million annually to the Greenville County economy, the study says. Beginning this year, that contribution is expected to reach $122.2 million, with the increase being a result of an expansion project on their six acres of land, according to a news release.

By 2029, the expansion is projected to increase the Peace Center’s total cumulative economic impact to $1.5 billion in Greenville County and $1.7 billion statewide.

“The Peace Center was established to be a hub for the performing arts and to improve the quality of life in the region,” Peace Center CEO Megan Riegel said in the release. “The results of this study help prove just how valuable the performing arts are to our community and state.”

Economic activity is generated from a combination of local expenditures the Peace Center invests in to run the facilities as well as non-local patrons spending at local businesses when visiting Peace Center events.

In 2019, the Peace Center generated approximately $34.5 million in direct revenue with $5.5 million going into payroll for its 204 workers.

The year 2022 was the first to reach the same levels of revenue as the pre-pandemic years.

The 18-month construction phase of the expansion currently underway at

the Peace Center is scheduled to begin this year with expenditures expected to generate sizable, temporary impacts for Greenville County and the state as a whole. When the expansion is complete in 2024, Peace Center officials anticipate hosting approximately 850 events each year with an expected annual attendance at 450,000.

Since 1990, the Peace Center has hosted more than 6 million patrons with nearly 13,000 performances and events.

Approximately 30% of the 371,283 people attending Peace Center events in 2019 lived outside of Greenville County.

The local spending activity of non-local patrons represents approximately 18% of the Peace Center’s annual economic impact in Greenville County.

The multi-year, multi-phased expansion to the Peace Center campus was announced in fall 2022.

4 February 2023
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Expansion plans for the Peace Center are expected to drive up the ripple effect of dollars spent on the arts center. (Photo/Provided)

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Over the past 135 years, The Furman Co. has played a crucial role in Greenville’s growth

With 135 years and an expansive portfolio of projects in the books, The Furman Co. continues its influential presence in the Greenville community.

The Furman Co. President and CEO Stephen Navarro said what he has learned over the last 40 years of being with the company is that the world changes — not only globally but locally — and it’s all about adaptability.

As a real estate developer in the Greenville market, he said he has witnessed tremendous change.

“I mean how do you put your hands around 135 years?” said Navarro. “We have been through high times, trying times and back again.”

The Furman Co., born in February 1888, realized that memorable projects depend not only on the leadership, pro- the community to invest. For these reasons, Furman seeks to develop great projects with great clients in markets it cares about —

including in the Upstate.

Rooted in Greenville’s history

Alester G. Furman III died in June 2007.

Be the Beat. If you are called on to give CPR in an emergency, you will most likely by trying to save the life of someone you love: a child, a spouse, a parent or a friend.

6 February 2023
He, his partner, Junius Garrison, and the forefathers of The Furman Co., One high-profile project currently underway for The Furman Co. is the new headquarters for United Community Bank in downtown Greenville. (Rendering/Provided) Navarro See FURMAN CO. Page 7

Alester G. Furman and Alester G. Furman Jr., were influential figures not only to Navarro but to the Greenville community, said Navarro in the company’s “Celebrating 125 Years” book written by local historian Judith Bainbridge.

“Being hired and trained by one of Greenville’s great family firms was an honor,” Navarro said.

Navarro was 24, with just a few years of real estate training, when he returned to the South from Southern California.

“I hoped to acquire the secrets of success from my prestigious and successful mentors. What I was exposed to, though, were not sophisticated formulas, techniques or cutting-edge business tools. What I gained in those early years was the firsthand opportunity to experience what I would later call ‘influential presence,’” said Navarro.

He said having the opportunity to study these community icons while establishing his own leadership and development principles was a unique and significant benefit.

“I have seen these men in action, but also, over time, I have seen a sea change in how a community is shaped,” said Navarro. “I have seen these leaders achieve goals, be praised and honored for them, then reminisced about, often with cloudy recollection, or even forgotten by a new generation of young Greenvillians not familiar with the development of

our community and its recent history. Consider the ways these men and this company could influence the direction of an entire community, affecting Greenville’s infrastructure for future growth and future prosperity.”

The Furman Co. has been a mainstay in the Greenville real estate community for generations, said Craig Stipes, principal of Broadstreet Partners LLC and former employee of The Furman Co.

There are dozens of successful people in the industry and community that started with The Furman Co., Navarro said, and that is what he’s most proud of — of what they have built over the last 135 years.

“Several of Greenville’s top real estate professionals both past and present launched at The Furman Co.,” Stipes said.

Another former employee of The Furman Co., Shelby Dodson, is now

the first vice president of advisory and transaction services at CBRE.

The Furman Co.’s impact extends beyond real estate, and into the fabric of Greenville’s community, she said.

“The Furman Co. has provided leadership in growth, best practices and innovation to our area over the last 135 years,” Dodson said.


February 2023 7 February 2023
FURMAN CO. from Page
See FURMAN CO. Page 8
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The Borden project will bring a mixed-use development to the former Borden Ice Cream Factory, and is slated to be completed this spring. (Rendering/Provided)

A ‘sophisticated’ way of doing business

The Furman Co. was a “robust” real estate services company that transformed into a niche real estate development company. In the late 1990s, The Furman Co. started to specialize in commercial real estate services. After analyzing local businesses becoming regional, regional becoming national, then national moving to a global scale, the Furman Co. leadership could see this outside influence and how Greenville was set apart from that. So in the late 1990s, early 2000s, they positioned the company to be a real estate brokerage and consulting services company that really focused on institutional, portfolio and corporate real estate, said Navarro.

“We wanted to do business in a way that a sophisticated investor would do business, how a corporation would,” he said. “So, we invested very heavily in that.”

They raised the bar with their brokers and asset managers to think like they lived in New York and not like they were in Greenville, said Navarro. This was the beginning of the change for The Furman Co., and they knew they needed to affi liate with a larger group that could connect them to other cities.

As soon as Greenville got put on the map as a regional and national player, Navarro said they had to be more con-

nected to larger cities to be considered competitive. That’s when they affi liated with CBRE, which was initially a franchise position. About six years ago, it became apparent to Navarro that CBRE should acquire the brokerage and risk management side of the company, so The Furman Co. sold it to them.

“My interest has always been more on the development side,” Navarro added.

The Furman Co. also had an insurance division they sold about two years ago to Relation Insurance Services Inc., he said.

“I was ready to solely focus on real estate development,” he added. “And that’s what The Furman Co. is today.”

Navarro said the company specializes in corporate builds — such as the United Community Bank headquarters currently being built in Greenville — and hand-selected projects in niche markets such as the Borden building project adjacent to Unity Park. Other notable projects by The Furman Co. in Greenville over the last few years include the TD Bank operation center on Interstate 85, Keys Court (YeeHaw Brewing and CycleBar), Poe West in the Village of West Greenville, the Claussen Bakery building and the Ogletree building, in addition to being the first private developer in the CU-ICAR build and representing Michelin for more than a decade in 25 states and three countries.

Once it divested the other divisions,

the company started looking at developing in other markets, such as Charleston and Asheville.

“We only work on projects we feel good about and want to have our name on,” said Navarro. “We are not beholden to institutional capital and own everything we build. We care about our community, we invest in our community, and we think holistically on the bigger picture of what we do with the build environment, and what that does to the greater community.”

The Furman Co. doesn’t have competitors, according to Navarro’s way of thinking.

“There are developers much bigger than us and developers much smaller than us, and frankly we don’t want to play in either in those markets,” he said. “I think what makes us unique in general is we have been around a long time so people can look at our long track record of what we have done. That creates trust in the community. We have been through a lot of economic cycles, and we have always come out of them thriving.”

Such as with the COVID-19 pandemic — an economic downturn that heavily affected a lot of businesses, specifically the real estate industry. However, Navarro said although the pandemic did not affect their new developments, they still had to consider two things: what does a post-COVID environment look like and are we planning projects that won’t match up with the new work landscape.

Office space, for example. Are people coming back to work? What are they asking for? Do they want elevators? Do they want more outdoor space? Those were among questions the real estate development company had to ask themselves.

“That was a tough time,” Navarro said. “We didn’t know if these concepts would change all markets the same or differ based on geographical location. We realized it was much the latter. Markets in the South, people came back to work fairly quickly. We luckily didn’t lose any tenants through that time, either, by working with them and adapting. This was another benefit of not being beholden to institutional capital or aggressive debt position.”

When asked how The Furman Co. quantifies its success, Navarro said, “by what people think of us, not by how much we’ve done.”

As for the future, Navarro said, he’s hopeful the company is around for — at least — another 100 years.

“We want to ingrain ourselves in the community by doing the right thing,” he added. “When people are happy we are (developing) in their communities, that is success for us. If a community we are building in is heavily against it, then we won’t to do it. If we need to meet with community groups, we will. I live in this community and would never do that. We believe developers can and are good for communities. We only want to work on projects we can be proud of.”

8 February 2023
FURMAN CO. from Page 7

Long drives turn software engineer into candy entrepreneur

Don Li’s restless soul kept him on the road. A lot.

The longtime software engineer made his home in Virginia for a while, but he has enjoyed exploring new places over the last 30 years, living in five states across the South, including two parts of South Carolina.

That restlessness kept him behind the wheel for long miles and long hours. To stay alert, he drank coffee — lots of it. The java kept him alert, something he expected. And it turned him into an entrepreneur, something he did not.

When inspiration struck, Li left behind his career as a software engineer to pursue an idea from the road — edible coffee, a caffeinated product that doesn’t lead to restroom breaks during long drives.

“Once this idea came to me, that’s like a moment of your life that you want to jump on,” he said. Today Li is founder of Greenville-based COG LLC and developer of the company’s only product so far: Coffee Candy.

The first iteration of edible coffee was baked goods.

“But brownies are good for today or two days, three days maximum,” Li said. “Then I pivoted to coffee candy, which is good for six months, nine months or even longer.”

For now the company is a one-person

show, with Li contracting out tasks such as web development and packaging design. The candy is made at Old Mill Kitchen and Commissary. Through trial and error he has refined the product to its current form.

“Try it. You will like it,” he said during a recent taste test, and nudged forward a three-piece package of Coffee Candy. He waited confidently while someone new tried the product. It’s chewy but firm, perhaps a little more so than taffy, with a bold and somewhat sweet coffee flavor.

“It’s somewhere between hard and soft,” he says. “It’s really good, huh? It also contains some nutrients, but overall it gives you a boost.”

There are other coffee-flavored candies but the only one Li has found that delivers a caffeine boost like Coffee Candy is a hard candy product from Indonesia, he said. That company grew from startup to billion-dollar enterprise in about five years, and Li himself is not thinking small.

He said some big coffee companies have reached out to him but he has not returned those calls, preferring for now to keep it local and regional. He has tapped in to local bankers (who also became his first customers) and the expertise of NEXT, the Greenville Chamber’s entrepreneurial support organization, where he has found mentorship.

He said his product is scalable and, when sate Agriculture Department approval is in hand, ready to grow.

“My goal is to bring it to market and down the road have every coffee lover to become our customers,” Li said. “We will then go for retail distribution with Walmart, Target and all that.”

Li said he believes his product will not compete with coffee in its traditional liquid form, but have a place alongside those products that have grown in popularity. He thinks Coffee Candy would be particularly handy for people like truck drivers, factory workers and construction crews that don’t want to take the time for a restroom break.

“The key thing I believe is convenience,” he said. “And we don’t picture replacing people’s habit. We’re complementary. Starbucks and all the other coffee shops — they’re all good, right? We just want to bring to the marketplace a coffee product that provides convenience to coffee lovers.”

The product is available for individual orders online at and some customers order directly from him. Some employers have ordered it by the case for their workers and at least one company plans to add it to the breakroom vending machine.

“You just put it into your mouth and get caffeine but you don’t have to go to the restroom,” Li said, and tapped on a sample package. “Once we get going, this guy could become huge. It tastes good, right?”

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Don Li said his candy should have a place on store shelves with other coffee products. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Clemson University forms new school behind EV manufacturing boom

The South’s fast rise as a leader in the building of electric vehicles and the batteries to power them is helping drive Clemson University’s decision to form a new school that brings together its mechanical and automotive engineers, according to a news release from the school.

The new School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering puts the departments of mechanical engineering and automotive engineering under one umbrella, better positioning Clemson for innovation and education in a number of areas, including mobility, energy and advanced manufacturing, all cornerstones of the South Carolina economy, the news release stated.

The founding director of the new school is Zoran Filipi. He was chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering for nearly seven years before vacating his seat to become founding director of the Virtual Prototyping of Ground Systems (VIPR-GS) Center, a position he still holds, the release stated.

Filipi will be the top administrator in a strategically important school, with most mechanical engineers located primarily on the main campus in Clemson and most automotive engineers at the

Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in Greenville, according to the release.

The school, first approved by the Board of Trustees in October 2021, is home to 66 faculty members and has the largest enrollment in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, with about 780 undergraduates and 400 graduate students.

mechanical and automotive engineering at Clemson are entering a new era.

“The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering will continue to position Clemson University as a national

leader in academics and research as well as strengthen key industry partnerships,”

Clemson University President Jim Clements said in the release. “The workforce of the future is rapidly changing. Opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning and interdisciplinary research, along with faculty and industry’s need for innovation, entrepreneurship, and discovery will be key to meeting the demands of South Carolina and beyond.

“Dr. Zoran Filipi, the school’s founding director, is an exceptional leader, and will utilize his expertise and experience in leading the school forward.”

Areas of expertise in the new school include autonomy, composite materials, computational modeling and simulation, flow and turbulence, human-robot teams, smart materials, systems integration and vehicle electrification, according to the release.

Atul Kelkar will continue to serve as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, a position he has held since 2018. Laine Mears, who took over for Filipi in January 2022, is the new chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering, the release stated.

Angie Leidinger, senior vice president for external affairs and senior advisor to the Board of Trustees, said the school will play a key role in providing South Carolina with the engineering leadership it needs to continue growing its economy.

“The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering positions us for the future as we partner with private companies and state and federal governmental entities to create industry leaders and innovators of tomorrow,” she said in the release. “The auto industry is going through a sea change, and the partnership between these two departments will help us meet evolving needs. I congratulate Dr. Filipi and look forward to working with him in his new role.”

10 February 2023
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Deep Orange is a vehicle prototype program at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research for the pioneering education, research and industry collaboration within the graduate degree programs in automotive engineering. (Photo/Clemson University)

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Presbyterian College and the city of Clinton have partnered to create a space for entrepreneurs to develop their new business ventures.

The new business “incubator” at 103 E. Main St. in Clinton was unveiled recently at a public ribbon cutting. Its first featured business is Aspen and Figs Gift Shop and products from Thornwell’s LushAcre Farms.

Clinton Mayor Bob McLean said the incubator was the result of a decade of hard work, planning, and a vision to guide and assist young entrepreneurs and encourage them to do business in Clinton.

When he started his business in textiles 27 years ago, he said he went into it with nothing. Now he owns a car lot, finance company, and rental property.

“I had people tell me I wasn’t smart enough to do it,” McLean added.

The incubator is especially a great opportunity for any entrepreneur who can’t afford startup costs, which he said would lend a higher success rate to a new business if they had help in the beginning stages.

“The young entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of this country,” said McLean. “Some of your biggest businesses you

see now started as a startup.”

Presbyterian College President Matthew vandenBerg said the business incubator will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs with ideas and provide them skills to succeed and “is a welcome addition to PC’s relationship with the city.”

PC and the City of Clinton are inter-

twined,” he said. “And we are one tide that will rise and fall together. The spirit of cooperation and teamwork is strong among us, and I believe it continues to grow and to grow.”

college’s inaugural Social Entrepreneurship Competition, a news release from the college stated.

“We hope this will be an eye-opening experience for our students, one that will expose them to the unique challenges and rewards of service entrepreneurship,” Bailey said in the release.

If you’re a young student and you’re looking for a college with such a program, this is an appealing one, said McLean.

“One of these startup companies may be the new Microsoft, you never know,” he said. “Being a mayor is in the business of serving the citizens, so it’s also like running a business, and we need more businesspeople. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m thankful for the vision of those who also think this is important. It takes a lot to run a business and a small business owner has all the same responsibilities of larger businesses, but they do it all themselves, which is challenging.”

As part of the class, students are also helping design and develop the incubator for the future, according to the release.

February 2023 11 February 2023
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Presbyterian College and the city of Clinton have partnered to create a space for entrepreneurs to develop their new business ventures. (Photo/Provided)

Manufacturer moving HQ to York County in $443M investment

Pallidus, a silicon carbide (SiC) wafer semiconductor manufacturer, plans to relocate its corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations to York County.

The company’s $443 million investment will create 405 new jobs, according to a news release from the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

Relocating its corporate headquarters from New York to Rock Hill, Pallidus’ York County facility marks its first operations in South Carolina, the release. Located at 1786 and 1800 Overview Drive, the 300,000-square-foot facility will serve as

the company’s new corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant. Pallidus’ plans include the growth of its manufacturing capacity to expand the United States’ semiconductor market.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the state of South Carolina, York County and the city of Rock Hill in supporting our new high-volume semiconductor silicon carbide wafer manufacturing plant and corporate headquarters, said Jerry Knowles, vice president of global facilities at Pallidus. “The decision to select Rock Hill, South Carolina for our next manufacturing facility was the result of extensive research to locate to a community that aligned with our innovative and collaborative spirit, offered an exceptional quality of life for our employees and

is easily supported from our research and development facility in New York.”

Founded in 2015, Pallidus leverages its proprietary M-SiC technology to increase the quality and lower the cost to produce silicon carbide wafers used in semiconductors, according to the release. The company’s next-generation technology has garnered traction in the rapidly expanding transportation, green energy and industrial power electronics markets. In addition to addressing the semiconductor shortage, Pallidus is specifically working to advance the innovative and energy efficient sectors of the economy including electric vehicles and mass transit; wind, solar and smart power transmission; and data centers and telecommunications.

Operations are expected to be online by the third quarter of 2023.

The Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development credits related to the project, according to the release.

“Today, we proudly welcome Pallidus to York County. It is exciting to add this innovative manufacturer and their headquarters to York County,” said Christi Cox, York County Council chairperson, in the release. “We applaud their commitment to invest here and add quality jobs in the community. We look forward to a successful long-standing partnership that will add value to this leading-edge technology company. Congratulations to Pallidus.”

Downtown Simpsonville restaurant to add rooftop dining

The Slice, a pizzeria located in downtown Simpsonville, is adding rooftop dining this spring.

The rooftop expansion will add 55 seats, bringing the capacity to serve around 150 people at any given time, according to a news release.

rooftop will feature a bar and an area for live music. It is in the final stages of design and anticipate construction to begin within the next month, with the rooftop slated to be open to patrons in late spring. The general contractor for this project is Chad McDowell with IHRS Construction, according to the Crawford Agency.

“Adding a rooftop experience to our pizzeria and expanding space for people to gather is an investment into the com-

munity that we love and call home,” said Mike Baldassarra, partner and general manager at The Slice. “We want to create a community hub on Main Street that can be a place for everyone — whether it be a date night, a celebration after a little league game or to enjoy some live music.”

As a family-owned pizzeria located in the heart of downtown Simpsonville, The Slice features New York Style pizza. Its menu includes a variety of pizzas made

with dough that’s made fresh daily, pasta dishes from The Pasta Addict and other pizzeria favorites.

“The City of Simpsonville is thrilled that The Slice is offering expanded space for its amazing fare and providing a fun roof-top experience for our residents and visitors overlooking South Main Street,” said Dianna Gracely, city of Simpsonville city administrator. “This is exactly the type of local investment we love to see in our city.”

12 February 2023
Located at 134 S. Main St., The Slice’s

In Focus

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NEXT ISSUE’S FOCUS: Architecture/Engineering/ Construction

Hotel conglomerate grows from deep family roots

with the meaning of ‘family’

When DJ Rama’s father and uncles came to Greenville in 1976 — always looking for opportunities — they had no idea they would be creating a legacy.

Fast forward 47 years, and Auro Hotels, which is headquartered in Greenville, is an international company with offices in Atlanta and Surat, India, and develops, owns and operates nearly 40 hotels across the Southeast.

There is no doubt that Auro Hotels has transformed downtown Greenville — playing a key role in the city’s revitalization — and has given the hospitality and tourism scene a boost.

Rama, president and CEO of Auro

Hotels, shared a Sanskrit saying Atithi Devo Bhava, which translates to “guests are to be revered and treated as family,” and embodies the Rama’s hospitality philosophy.

“Why we are so passionate about the hospitality and tourism industry takes me back to our roots,” said Rama. “The values my father and grandfather taught me is to take care of guests and give them shelter.”

After being raised in the Camelot motel on Augusta Road starting in 1976, he said a passion for the industry is in his DNA.

“It’s not about having a manual but having a heart and creating a soul and culture of a company as owners and developers,” he said. “And that is reflected in the way we treat our associates at the corporate office down to how we take care of our guests in each of our hotels.”

Through hard work and perseverance, the company’s first hotel was acquired in 1973, while the first hotel they built —

one of the first Hampton Inns — was in 1986 in Augusta.

After the success of building their first hotel, Auro later acquired land in Greenville to build the Fairfield Inn on Pelham Road in Greenville in 1994, said Rama. This was the start of a long-term partnership with the Marriott brand of hotels.

Rama said the company began a special relationship with Marriott around the time he took his first job after college with Marriott Corporate.

“To become a franchisee, they wanted us to start at the bottom, as with anything, but later, the Fairfield Inn franchise led us to our first full-service Marriott hotel on the Parkway,” said Rama. “This acquisition was an important step in our growth. We of course love other brands like Hilton and Hyatt but have a special bond with Marriott due to the history, and we want to grow that moving forward.”

Now, 72% of Auro’s hotel portfolio is

made up of Marriott-branded hotels.

When it comes to Greenville, what Auro discovered was the quality of life and nature that is unique here, said Rama.

Within a 50-mile radius, Auro has acquired many hotels in the Upstate, but over time, downtown Greenville became their bullseye — so they sold some properties in neighboring cities and focused on Greenville growth.

“Greenville has been at the heart of our expansion in the hospitality industry,” said Rama.

In downtown Greenville alone, Auro has built the AC Hotel on Main Street in Camperdown, and the Residence Inn/ SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Spring Street, as well as a total renovation of the Hyatt Regency.

“The hospitality scene here calls for a high design profile, and that’s what I’m most passionate about,” said Rama. “The

February 2023
How this hotel conglomerate transformed downtown Greenville’s hospitality, tourism scene
has more Greenville hotel rooms than anyone else
See AURO, Page 14

AURO, from Page 13

design of our downtown hotels really brings the scene up a notch.”

Sid Wall, executive vice president for Select Service Operations, who oversees the Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites, and AC Hotel in downtown, said when you look at the reimaging of these hotels, it goes back to everything Auro does in the industry.

“It’s about welcoming people into our homes, which is our hotels,” Wall added. “You can see it in every hotel detail. DJ has executed flawlessly to make people feel what Greenville is about when walking into one of our hotels. We welcome them in a way they have not been welcomed before. It’s special, but it’s a process that has been developed over the last 47 years. It’s a lot of work, but we are all very proud of it.”

Auro has invested close to $300 million in downtown Greenville, with more than 1,000 rooms in the city and 740 employees.

“We love Greenville, because we have found that the city has diversified industries that have allowed us to survive all the headwinds such as recessions,” said Rama. “Being a business owner in Greenville has given us a deep foundation and love for this community.”

So much so, Auro donated more than $1.25 million to local charity in the last decade, and contributed $500,000 for the construction of the Unity Park Auro Bridge.

“This symbolizes that we welcome everyone here,” Rama said. “Unity Park itself represents that.”

He said when the bank lent them money in the 1970s, they gave his family a chance, even when there was open discrimination at that time.

“Unity Park is a full circle moment for us as a minority owned business,” he added. “We had a small hand in it, but we are really proud of how far we have come.”

History in the making

When former Greenville Mayor Max Heller started his term in 1971, he brought his vision of European and Austrian flair. He did a lot of the legwork to get a hotel in Greenville that is said to be the start of its revitalization. That’s when the Hyatt Regency was born in 1982 through private-public partnerships. Creating a downtown that was walkable with tree-lined streets was a part of Heller’s vision.

Rama said his father used to bring him to the Hyatt to learn how to eat with a fork and knife when its restaurant first opened. So it was another full circle moment for the family when they purchased it from the Hyatt family in 2009, said Rama. That purchase included an office building, the 330room hotel, and a park.

“People used to take a U-turn at Bertolo’s, so we made that area an approachable public square with plentiful seating, a stage, restaurant and patio, so people would embrace this block instead of turn away from it,” said Rama. “We revitalized the

north end of Main Street, bringing it back to life.”

They activated NOMA Square with community events to bring people together, furthering the positive impact on Greenville’s economy, Rama said.

“It was a regeneration of growth in Greenville,” he added. “There was a lot of pressure to make sure they preserved its original vision and the re-grand opening in 2012 was a very touching moment for our family.”

As a 100% privately held company, Wall said you cannot overstate the family feel of Auro.

“From past to present and in the future, that’s an important part of who we are,” he added.

Rama said Auro believes in Greenville city leaders and will continue to invest in the community.

“We clearly saw people flock here during COVID, and we believe that’s due to finding a sense of place here,” he added.

Although they are still working on the details, Auro also plans to create a 9,000-square-foot event space on Main Street below the AC Hotel, where they will host live music and other entertainment.

“By creating this music corridor, we will add to the energy of Main Street,” Rama said.

Auro also intends to develop two more 200-room hotels, which will be positioned as upscale lifestyle hotels. These concepts are still in the early development stages.

From the Upstate to the Lowcountry

With Greenville as their home, Auro always wanted to enter the Charleston market, but it felt unapproachable because of how expensive it is, Rama said.

Eventually they had had an opportunity to acquire the Charleston Riverview Hotel on Lockwood Boulevard which led to the purchase of the Courtyard on the Ashley River. Later, in that same area, they acquired the Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites on Ripley Point, and now own the North Charleston Marriott and TownePlace Suites North Charleston.

“It was a domino effect,” said Rama. “Once we enter a market we want to keep growing there.”

The Ashley River is a special place for Auro, too, he added. The Marriott Courtyard design reflects the water and scenery of Charleston.

They were inspired by the river as they have a dock there, and all the watercolors in the lobby are unique with touches of mosaic art pieces, which are also reminiscent of the river.

“We reinvent properties based on the surrounding public spaces of each hotel, and that is also reflected in the guest rooms,” Rama said.

In both the Charleston and Greenville markets, Auro is the largest hotel owner in terms of number of rooms, said Rama. There are close to 1,200 rooms in Charleston among all their hotels — with more to come — and approximately 1,100 in Greenville, with close to 400 more in the works.

When Auro acquired the dilapidated Lockwood Boulevard hotel, they renovated it to become the Charleston Marriott. They then worked in partnership with the city, which was redeveloping the area, to build an addition creating one of the largest ballrooms/convention spaces in downtown. It is named after former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley — who served 40 years in office.

“He took us in with an open heart and said, ‘Let’s revitalize,’” said Rama. “He was the pillar of Charleston, so we displayed photographs of him and commemorated him in our ballroom. Offering the city a large space to gather, which is similar to the Hyatt Regency in Greenville.”

Rama said by taking ownership of the hospitality and tourism industry in each market, it allows them to attract great staff and leaders while bringing the best service to their guests.

Whenever they develop a project, they study the marketplace of each city and incorporate local stories into a design story board for their hotels. Case and point: the Residence Inn/SpringHill Suites, a dual-branded hotel, is nature-inspired, just like Greenville itself. The AC Hotel in Greenville pays homage to the textile industry, local arts and culture, and the Greenville News that was formerly located on the site of the hotel. This philosophy holds true with the Courtyard at Ashley River as well.

“Our mission is to create a story when guests visit, so they can connect to each place they are visiting,” said Rama.

Down to the signature scents of each hotel, all the senses are meant to be engaged for the ultimate experience, Rama said.

Notable partners in Auro projects are BE&K Building Group, which has built many hotels with them, and McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, as well as several other local partners.

“We appreciate South Carolina being a user-friendly state for business, and for the work that is done here attracting tourism,” said Rama. “Having a vision for the future ensures the state stays strong for a great future for our children.”

Auro wouldn’t be what it is today without having treated their associates like family. Rama said the next generation will continue to lead the company, hopefully well into the future.

“We will stay true to our roots and original values,” he said.

14 February 2023
The Hyatt anchors the northern end of Main Street in Greenville’s downtown. (Photo/Provided) One of the newest Auro Hotels is the AC Hotel in Greenville’s Camperdown, a property designed as much for the local public as for overnight guests. (Photo/Provided)


How one couple built a boutique hotel in Columbia

When Rita Patel and husband Marcus Munse moved to Columbia in 2010, they did so out of economic necessity.

The couple’s dreams of moving to New York City and becoming architects were dashed by the Great Recession. Patel’s parents owned a motel in West Columbia and the couple both took jobs there, plus worked others to make ends meet.

During those challenging times, they never believed they would eventually decide to make Columbia home, and eight years later end up opening their own boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s downtown.

“When we came to Columbia, opening a hotel was not on our radar at all,” owner Rita Patel told SC Biz News in a recent interview. “But we absolutely fell in love with this city and things started to bloom for us. The timing was perfect when we decided to open Hotel Trundle.”

Five years after opening in space that used to be three historic downtown buildings, the 41-room Hotel Trundle

has won dozens of national and regional awards and the couple are planning two expansions to offer guests even more unique ways to experience what Trundle — and Columbia — has to offer.

Hotel Trundle, like other accommodations nationwide, went through a stressful time during the pandemic in 2020, when it was forced to close for about six weeks. Patel and Munse, how-

ever, say some good things came out of that era. They learned how much support they had from the local community and what a strong team of employees they have, and they also got some important new perspectives on travelers’ changing wants and needs.

They learned many guests were seeking out different levels of privacy, ranging from the traditional full-service

hotel experience to more private accommodations for both short- and longterm stays.

As a result, they decided in 2022 to expand Trundle’s offerings into two new options called Flutter Wing and The Dens. Flutter Wing, slated to open later this year, offers guests a semi-private stay, while The Dens, less than a mile away over in Columbia’s historic Cottontown district, offers a completely private stay.

The Flutter Wing takes its name from a butterfly-themed mural at the main hotel, and also is designed to play off the whimsical nature of the Trundle’s mascot, the unicorn.

It is located around the corner from the main hotel in former retail space at 1544 Main St., adjacent to and above Drake’s Duck-In, a long-time Columbia restaurant. The wing is going into a historic building that served a wide variety of retail businesses in the past, starting with Duffie’s Bookstore (1868-1912) to a beauty salon, shoe store, and Marilyn’s Slipper Shop in 1941.

Five hotel-style guest rooms will be in the 2,500-square-foot new wing, includ-


February 2023 15 February 2023
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Owners of Hotel Trundle, a Columbia boutique hotel, plan multiple expansions in the future. (Photo/Provided) See HOTEL TRUNDLE, Page 16

ing a large suite that would be ideal for both brides and VIP guests, Patel said. Flutter also will include a private patio, and offer guests both a private key-fob entry and separate parking, while also offering guests full access to all of the main hotel’s amenities.

The Dens, meanwhile, will be located in two duplexes the couple is renovating in the Cottontown area. It will consist of four apartment-style lodging spaces — three one-bedroom and one three-bedroom offering with an office space. Design and construction for that space is being run by the couple, with Marcus handling much of the construction and renovation himself. The Dens is also slated to open this year.

Hotel Trundle – both the original site and the future expansions – exists only because Patel and Munse had to radically change their original life plans.

Both graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with architecture degrees and married in 2010. Munse originally hails from the Charlotte area, while Patel grew up surrounded by the hospitality industry in South Carolina. Her parents were in hospitality for more than 40 years.

When plans to move to New York didn’t work out, they first moved in with Patel’s parents in Orangeburg and then came to Columbia to work in a hotel the Patel family had developed in West Columbia. Rita helped at the front desk while Marcus took on maintenance and other jobs.

The hotel wasn’t their only gig, however. Over the next 24 months, the two worked a total of five jobs. Rita’s jobs included a stint as an “on-call” sales associate with Macy’s at a northeast shopping center.

“We were living on a popcorn-for-dinner budget,” Patel said. “We couldn’t even really afford our first Christmas tree, and they only cost $30 back then. But during the whole time, we never missed a payment on anything.”

Although it wasn’t the easiest of times, the couple quickly started to love their newly adopted home, learning more about what the city had to offer through local events such as the popular Soda City Market held downtown on Saturdays. The Market even became the location of one of their money-making efforts from that era – “Daddy-Daughter Chicken Tikka,” a pop-up food stall that featured chicken tikka and other traditional Indian foods.

Rita was eventually able to get a job with a local architectural firm, while Marcus decided he liked the hospitality industry and stayed on working at the hotel. They purchased their first home in the Cottontown district in 2013 and had two children as the years passed.

Eventually Rita and Marcus decided they wanted to try their hand at opening their own boutique-style, indepen-

dent hotel in Columbia that would allow them not only to showcase what the city had to offer but to offer a guest experience unlike any other available in the area.

In 2016, they started looking around for properties and were guided to three buildings along Taylor Street which previously were home to Rose-Talbert Paints, Powell Furniture Co. and a Western Auto Store.

The buildings initially didn’t seem like prime hotel material.

“When we first saw the site it looked like a horror movie — there were drips and puddles everywhere, and things left behind from when part of the space was a storage facility for a local hospital,” Patel said.

But they took a leap of faith, signed a contract for the properties in 2016, and after two years of hard work opened Hotel Trundle in 2018. Patel used her love of interior design to help develop the hotel’s unique art-deco vibe, accented by attention to details that reflect

the buildings’ original historic design including exposed brick, stamped tin ceilings, moldings and custom wood trim.

Support for the hotel from both the local community and travelers was quick to develop.

“Everything worked out for us — the timing was perfect and we opened to a supportive atmosphere,” Munse said. “Columbia had not had something like this before and everyone was curious about what we had to offer.”

The couple are so dedicated to supporting the Columbia area that from the beginning, as many products as possible in use at Hotel Trundle come from local vendors, from artwork on the walls to the craft beer served in the lobby and the coffee served at breakfast. The hotel’s mattresses are made by Best Mattress in West Columbia and are so popular with guests that many come to the front desk and ask where they can purchase the “Trundle mattress.”

If they can’t find items made in

Columbia, they try to source them from elsewhere in South Carolina. The pillows, for instance, are made by a company out of Beaufort called Harris Pillows.

The couple’s decision to create a unique lodging experience has paid off. Hotel Trundle has consistently won local, regional and national awards since the year it opened, and in 2021 and ’22 was named one of the Top 10 Best Historic Hotels in the U.S. by readers of USA Today. The hotel has also welcomed celebrity guests including Steve Martin, Vivica Fox and DJ Khaled.

Patel and Munse hope to make even more guests happy when Trundle’s expansions open later this year, and to continue to support the city that allowed them to build their dream.

“We want to continue to grow by understanding what our guests want and need,” Patel said. “We know that a lot of travelers these days are looking for an atmosphere that’s cool and inspiring, and that’s who we’re here for.”

HOTEL TRUNDLE, from Page 15
Hotel Trundle is undergoing an exapnsion with two new options called the Flutter Wing and The Dens. The Flutter Wing is expected to open later this year and offers guests a semi-private stay. Marcus Munse and Rita Patel saw the potential of a ruined building through the eyes of architects. (Photo/Provided)

them from The pilby a comHarris Pilcreate a has paid consistently won awards since 2021 and 10 Best readers also welincluding Steve Khaled. make even Trundle’s year, and to allowed grow by guests want know that a looking for inspiring,

Funding falling into place for $144M airport project

Aproject to build a new access road for Charleston International Airport appears to be finally cleared for take-off.

The S.C. Joint Bond Review Committee recently voted to approve an additional $22 million for Charleston International’s Airport Connector Road project. The committee had previously approved $14 million for the project in 2014.

The total cost of the project is $144 million.

The project, in planning for more than a decade, is being funded through several sources, with the South Carolina Department of Transportation putting $69 million toward the project, Charleston County putting in another $18.1 million and the federal government chipping in $16.1 million. Along with the $22 million Strategic Economic Development Fund grant approved Jan. 25, the S.C. Dept. of Commerce is putting in $17 million.

About $1.7 million remains to be funded.

The purpose of the project is to relocate the current entrance road to Charleston International Airport from International Boulevard to the perimeter of Boeing’s expansion property by providing direct access to the airport from Interstate 526.

Plans call for the proposed 5-lane road to run along Montague Avenue and tie into the existing airport loop road.

According to airport, county, and Dept. of Commerce officials, the new road should significantly relieve congestion currently caused by the sheer traffic volume currently traveling International Boulevard and the surrounding areas. Once the project is completed, the entry way to the airport, located on International Boulevard, will disappear; however, access to South Aviation Avenue from International Boulevard will still be available.

“The project will alleviate existing and increasing traffic congestion in the vicinity

of the airport by providing direct access to the airport from I-526, and separating airport and commuter traffic from traffic to and from Boeing’s campus,” South Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Harry Lightsey wrote in a letter of support to the Joint Bond Review Board in Dec. 2022.

The ACR is not only part of a long-term plan to alleviate traffic congestion in the area — especially on International Boulevard, which is heavily traveled in both directions — but is also part of a commitment by the state to further enable Boeing’s consolidation of manufacturing operations for the 787 Dreamliner in Charleston.

“In discussing the need for the funding,

we identified the contribution to the ACR project because of the State’s long-standing commitment in connection with the relocation of International Boulevard off of the Boeing expansion property,” Lightsey wrote in his letter to the Joint Bond Commission. “Boeing’s decision in 2020 that it would consolidate assembly of the 787 Dreamliner to its North Charleston facility include the company’s reliance on this commitment that will enable expansion of Boeing’s operations in North Charleston.”

The Joint Bond Committee acknowledged that “fulfillment of the State’s commitment is underscored by Boeing’s announcement on Dec. 13, 2022, of a firm order by United Airlines for one hundred 787 Dreamliners to be delivered by 2032, with an option for an additional 100 Dreamliners in the future.”

The ACR is also expected to aid in the projected future growth of Charleston International Airport. According to Charleston International Airport statistics, the airport served more than 2.6 million passengers in 2022; that number is expected to increase to around 6 million by the end of 2024. Longterm expansion plans currently call for 11 new gates, two new wings, and another parking deck, according to airport officials.

If all goes as planned, bids for the ACR project will go out in second quarter 2024 with construction getting under way in third quarter 2024.

February 2023 17 February 2023 IN FOCUS: HOSPITALITY/TOURISM
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Beverage company to open $130M facility in Upstate

Abeverage company has plans to open its first South Carolina facility in Spartanburg County.

Milo’s Tea Co.’s $130 million investment is expected to create 130 new jobs, according to a release from the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

Located at Park 290 at Interstate 26 in Moore, the initial design of Milo’s Spartanburg County operations includes a new 110,000-square-foot plant, which will accommodate brewing and bottling operations for ready-to-drink beverages,

according to the release. The Spartanburg County facility will be the company’s fourth plant in the United States.

“South Carolina was the optimal location to efficiently serve our customers up and down the East Coast,” Milo CEO Tricia Wallwork said in the release. “Like our selection journey for our Oklahoma facility, we immediately felt at home in the Spartanburg area as we received a warm welcome from state and local community partners. South Carolina and Spartanburg County in particular proved to be the right ecosystem to help us advance our people-first culture by offering an excellent standard of living for our asso-

ciates and robust workforce development resources to drive economic prosperity not only for our people, but also for the region.”

Founded in 1946, Milo’s is a family-owned beverage company that provides a variety of flavored teas and beverages to customers across the nation, the release stated. The company offers a portfolio of high-quality, natural ingredient beverages including sweet tea, unsweet tea and lemonade. Milo’s is a leading refrigerated tea brand and one of the fastest growing lemonade brands in America. Operations are expected to be online by the end of 2024.

The Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development credits related to this project, according to the release.

“Every time a popular, established brand brings operations to Spartanburg County, it grows our presence in the region and the country, and just goes to further prove how good a place Spartanburg County is to do business,” said David Britt, chairperson of the Spartanburg County Councilman and Economic Development Committee. “We are excited to welcome Milo’s to Spartanburg County and eager to have some of the first tea brewed at their facility.”

Popular Folly Beach taco joint to open Greenville location

Apopular Folly Beach taqueria announced it will be making its way to Greenville this summer.

Taco Boy, which was founded in Folly Beach in 2006, is opening its fifth location in the Carolinas at 1813 Laurens Road in Greenville.

Longing for the oceanside fish tacos of her youth, Taco Boy was created by Charles-

ton restauranteur Karalee Nielsen Fallert, a founding partner and co-owner of a dozen restaurant ventures in the Holy City and a leading advocate for community projects and women-led initiatives. She’s been recognized for her contributions to Charleston’s culinary community and for revitalizing Charleston neighborhoods, according to the news release.

The new Greenville location will be taking the place of the former Farmhouse Tacos establishment. The opening will follow a

complete transformation of the interior and exterior spaces, including the hardscaping. Steering the project is Greenville-based builder David Caldwell of Caldwell Constructors Inc., who’s working with the design team, global architecture firm Gensler, and Greenville-based civil engineering firm Isomer Project Group, according to the news release.

“We’re really focusing on curb appeal,” said Fallert. “We love the stretch of Laurens Road and proximity to Swamp Rabbit

Trail. The location has served as a catalyst to improve that whole space. We’re expanding the outdoor patio for gathering and dining. And while the shell of the building will remain, the interior won’t be so recognizable.”

The Greenville location will also include an in-house tortilleria, which is currently being guided by Asheville-based chef and consultant Luis Martinez, founder and owner of Tequio Foods, which supports indigenous Mexican farmers, the release said.

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Behind downtown Greenville’s newest taproom

For Julia Belcher and Jennifer Lion, their dream of opening a taproom was one they didn’t know they had. Both moved to Greenville more than a decade ago and fell in love with the city. So much so that they would eventually open People’s Tap, an homage to Greenville’s burgeoning food and beverage scene.

The People’s Tap concept was dreamt up back in 2019, after years of planning, obstacles, successes, redesigns and research on beers. Now, the taproom, which is located at the RiverPlace development in downtown Greenville at 250 Riverplace, Suite B, is officially open.

Belcher, People’s Tap partner and general manager, and Lion, also a partner, have been friends for around nine years when they met in Greenville. Both are Ohio State alumni and really enjoy visiting breweries and hiking together, but their friendship was essentially centered on the up-and-coming food and beverage industry in Greenville, said Belcher. They both even held hospitality positions in between the journey to the People’s Tap.

“As time went on, we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we owned a place of our own?” said Belcher. “It took a while to get it going, but now we are in an incredible location, although we weren’t originally looking at a downtown location.”

Pandemic poses problems

But then — much like other new businesses starting out amid the COVID-19 pandemic — there were some challenges.

The pair had considered opening the taproom on the outskirts of the city limits, as more of a neighborhood spot, such as in the Overbrook area, and hadn’t considered downtown in the earlier stages of the process.

For their first potential location, virtual zoning meetings — the result of the pandemic — created a bit of uncertainty in the planning process.

“When we did it, we thought everything was good and didn’t really comprehend the longevity of the process, but then frustration over the process grew over time as the pandemic continued, and we were working full-time remotely, too, wondering what we do we do next?” said Belcher.

They saw how the pandemic affected other businesses but also how amazing and creative the Greenville community is, said Belcher.

“We had to figure out how to navigate through the situation and saw breweries trying different things, and we try our very best to stay away from paper menus for sustainability purposes,” she added. “Two years ago, scanning a QR code was uncommon and now everyone knows what to do. The pandemic really changed the food and beverage industry, and we incorporated that into our business.”

Checking all the boxes

Belcher said they had worked with the same Realtor over the years, and he pushed them to look at a location overlooking the Reedy River downtown.

“We absolutely fell in love with the space as soon as we walked in,” she added. “It just checked all the boxes on our wish list, and the stars aligned after that.”

The partners were going for a traditional taproom feel that is elevated, said Belcher. For example, the floors are concrete and there are raw, intricate woodwork features but also a marble bar top and a modern fusion of design.

“We wanted to cater to a wide variety of patrons, so everyone feels comfortable in this space, and the windows that allows for a lot of natural light and overlooking the river invites natural outdoor scenery into the bar,” said Belcher.

Bartron Builders and architecture firm Fathom Firm were the construction and design partners.

Once construction began, Belcher said it took around four months to complete, so that was the smoother part of the process.

Putting the customers first

When asked what the People’s Tap offers that sets them apart from similar businesses, Belcher said customer engagement plays a critical role in what they do.

They have an interactive menu, which allows customers to leave direct feedback in their inbox on what they like and don’t like.

“We have patrons set the stage to set us aside and chat about their experience,” said Belcher.

With the location being right on the Reedy River, she added, and easy access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, they also wanted bike racks added to the front of the building.

“Although we are craft beer-focused, we also try to present regional and local beers, as we have an amazing beer community right here in Greenville,” said Belcher.

They also feature international beers, and a tap is dedicated to the “People’s Tap,” which rotates different macros such as Michelob Ultra and Bud Light. If

you don’t like beer, they also offer a variety of wine, ciders and seltzers.

And, with Papi’s Tacos and The Lazy Goat located near the Peoples Tap, patrons may have food delivered to the taproom but also welcomed to bring their own food as well.

A focus on the community

Although People’s Tap draws a lot of locals, Belcher and Lion also feel they are part of energizing this space and area, a concept that taps into the tourists wants as well being close to hotels, The Peace Center, and other venues opening soon, said Belcher.

“I think what we bring is a great way for tourists to get a sample of Greenville, being so close to the river and showcasing a lot of our local beers,” she added. “We are also both community-focused.”

Belcher worked in nonprofits, while Lion worked in zoology. “We wanted to support the Greenway, other parks in the area, and engage the overall community around us who have already shown so much support.”

In addition to community support, said Belcher, they have been reached out to by other female entrepreneurs who have congratulated them on the opening while offering their support as well.

“With news outlets reaching out as well, we are so happy people want to hear our story,” said Belcher. “This project has been years in the making, and we were worried about people showing up and how it would translate in the community, but Greenville really has showed up and we were at capacity most of the day we opened.

“We have had people tell us that it’s warm and inviting, from the training of our staff to the space itself. Our customers feel comfortable here, and that’s what we want, for all people to feel invited.”

February 2023 19 February 2023 IN FOCUS: HOSPITALITY/TOURISM
Julia Belcher, left, and business partner, Jennifer Lion, recently opened People’s Tap after striking up a friendship over their love of Greenville and its food and beverage scene. (Photo/Provided) Julia Belcher and Jennifer Lion bonded over their love of Greenville and the city’s culinary and hospitality scene, which inspired them to open People’s Tap. (Photo/Provided)

At Work

Business Digest

Countybank raises $150,000 for charity

Countybank said its third annual swipe to donate campaign in December raised $150,000 for local nonprofit and charitable organizations. Organizations receiving funds include Boys and Girls Club of the Lakelands Region, United Way, soup kitchens across the Upstate, Pathway House, Pendleton Place Youth Resource Center, Anderson Interfaith Ministries and Greer Partnership for Tomorrow.

Quitchet a finalist for Most Innovative Business Quitchet, an app designed to streamline the home-selling process, was named as a finalist for SC Biz News 2022 Reader Rankings "Most Innovative Business of the Year." Quitchet launched in 2020 and in 2022 was named the official app of the Greater Greenville Association of Realtors. Quitchet is provided through membership in each local MLS.

advertising standards. Each quarter, BBB’s Local Advertising Review Program recognizes a business and nonprofit within the 10 counties of the Upstate for adhering to BBB’s Code of Advertising guidelines. Grateful Brew coffee shop and craft beer taproom opened in Greenville in 2016.

Ohio-based construction company to

open Greenville office

Messer Construction Co. is expanding into South Carolina, opening its 11th regional office in the Upstate.

profit and civic organizations that make the region dynamic, Thompson said. The company’s headquarters and corporate support services office is in Cincinnati.

Lead Collective receives BBB Applause Award

BBB of Upstate South Carolina awarded Lead Collective the BBB Applause Award for meeting and exceeding advertising standards. Each quarter, BBB’s Local Advertising Review Program (LARP) recognizes a business and nonprofit within the 10 counties of the Upstate for adhering to BBB’s Code of Advertising guidelines. Formed in 2019, Lead Collective operates three ministries.

Dorothy Self, chair of the BBB of Upstate South Carolina Local Advertising Review Program, awards Deb York, Grateful Brew owner, with the BBB Applause Award.

Grateful Brew receives BBB Applause Award

Countybank donates to Next Level Countybank Foundation said it donated $5,000 to Next Level Lifestyles, a program that Jamar Crawford founded to serve youth in Greenwood. The organization helps individuals discover and maintain a healthy lifestyle through exercise.

Young Office acquires McWaters

Young Office said it acquired McWaters of Columbia. The acquisition adds the South Carolina markets of Columbia and Charleston and the Georgia markets of Savannah and Augusta to the Young Office footprint, the company said. McWaters was founded in 1942.

According to a news release, the new office in downtown Greenville also serves Spartanburg and Anderson, as well as surrounding counties. Messer Construction Co. Vice President and Region Leader Erin Thompson has been with the company for 25 years and is responsible for overall operations. Greenville native Matt Irwin leads business development for Messer.

“We’re excited to continue growing our presence in the Carolinas while providing opportunities for career advancement for our employees,” Messer Construction Co. President and CEO Tim Steigerwald said in the news release. “It’s very rewarding to cultivate our employee-ownership culture and our company purpose — to build better lives for our customers, communities and each other — in each of the cities where we live and work.”

For Messer, expanding into a new region means they investing in the community — hiring locally and empowering its people to get involved in the non-

“We have a 90-year track record of leading safe and high-quality construction projects with transparency and innovation, including a commitment to creating opportunities for diverse businesses,” he said in the release.

Messer performs complex commercial construction projects as a general contractor and construction manager throughout the Midwest and Southeast. Market segment expertise includes health care, higher education, industrial, science and technology, aviation and federal/military, with an additional portfolio of commercial/mixed-use, public/ government, culture/entertainment, athletic, senior living and K-12 work, according  to the news release.

The construction company’s other regional offices are located in Charlotte and Raleigh; Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Lexington and Louisville, Ky.; Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; and Indianapolis.

Messer Construction Co. is an employee-owned company. Reach Krys at 864-640-4418.

BBB of Upstate South Carolina awarded Grateful Brew with the BBB Applause Award for meeting and exceeding

Proactive MD adds two centers

Primary care provider Proactive MD said it is launching two new health centers in the Upstate to serve employees of Bob Jones University and local businesses in the community. The company will now operate 11 locations across South Carolina, expanding their Upstate Direct Primary Care footprint to include Greenville, Greer, Mauldin and Spartanburg. The newest Proactive MD Health Center will serve 2,600 people from BJU Inc. and BJU Education Group employees and their families. In addition to BJU, Proactive MD will have the capacity to serve additional people from local businesses in the community, according to a news release.

Furman housing project recognized Furman University said phase one of its North Village Housing renovation achieved two Green Globes through the Green Building Initiative, a certification program to achieve healthy, sustainable and resilient buildings. The renovation of the 1990s structures was recognized for installed geothermal systems, an Energy Star Performance score of 97 and for turf irrigated by potable water and from the lake.

bring a youth esports league to the community for gamers ages 7-17. YMCA of Greenville’s Caine Halter Family YMCA in Greenville and the Y Program Center in Simpsonville will be the host locations for the premier youth esports program. XP League Greenville coaches are certified through Next Level Esports and Positive Coaching Alliance. XP League is certified as a Accredited Educational Program.

YMCA partners with XP League YMCA of Greenville and XP League Greenville announced a partnership to

UCB gives to Urban League United Community Bank Foundation said it donated $25,000 to Urban League affiliates across its footprint. The National Urban League and its affiliates promote economic empowerment through educaSee BIZ DIGEST, Page 22

Cam Hill, founder of Lead Collective, with Dorothy Self, chair of the BBB of Upstate South Carolina Local Advertising Review Program. David Tompkins, left, Greenwood market executive for Countybank, presents a check to Jamar Crawford, founder of Next Level Lifestyles.

People in the News


FinTrust Capital Advisors hired Spencer Cole as vice president investment adviser. Cole holds his series 7 and 66 securities licenses and his insurance license with the state of South Carolina.

Brad Cantrell joined the First Bank SBA. Cantrell most recently worked as an SBA Development Officer with Countybank in Greenwood.


Trehel Corp. hired Mike Garren as director of business development.

Garren previously worked as the director of business development for Harris Flooring in Anderson.

Mavin Construction hired Rob Moore as superintendent. Moore has more than 35 years of experience in the construction industry.

Landmark Construction Co. Inc. hired Brandy Cence as senior estimator. She has 21 years of experience in construction and estimating.


The Greenville Tech Foundation announced David Sudduth, executive director of Health Me-Healthy SC, as chair of its board of directors; Chad Cousins, CEO of McMillan Pazdan Smith LLC, as vice chair; and Drew Boland, senior vice president of middle market banking at Truist Financial Corp., as secretary and treasurer. The foundation also announced two new members to serve three-year terms from 2023 to 2025: Jon Joffe, system vice president of human resources at Prisma Health; and Keith Poole, president and COO at Trehel Corp.


Greenwood Genetic Center Foundation announced the appointment of Helen Campbell, Ted Pitts, Arthur Radcliffe and Kay Self to its board of trustees. Campbell of Florence owns Organization Solutions. Pitts of Lexington is the president and CEO of Wilson Kibler Commercial Real Estate. Radcliffe of Greenwood is a business development manager for ADM. Self of Greenwood is a community volunteer, a board member for SCBIO and executive director of Vision Greenwood.

Matt Elsey has been appointed to Prisma Health’s corporate leadership team as executive vice president and CFO. Elsey comes to Prima Health from McLaren Health Care Corp. in Grand Blanc, Mich., where he served as vice president and corporate controller.


Sodoma Law expands into Upstate by opening new Greenville office

Staff Report

Sodoma Law, a full-service family law firm that works in divorce and custody cases, is opening an office in Greenville.

Sodoma Law attorney Kelsey Queen has been named managing attorney and will lead the Greenville office, according to a news release. In addition to this newest location, Sodoma Law offices include its headquarters in Charlotte, in the historic Graham building; as well as Sodoma Law Union in Monroe, N.C.; Sodoma Law North in Cornelius, N.C.; and Sodoma Law York in Rock Hill.

“We are excited to extend our family law practice to the Greenville, S.C., area,” Nicole Sodoma, managing principal of Sodoma Law, said in the news release. “Led by Kelsey Queen, Sodoma Law Greenville will continue our mission of connecting clients with compassionate and tenacious attorneys who are outstanding client advocates. Since our doors opened almost 15 years ago, I have planned to open in Greenville. I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to become an integral part of that community.”

The company is already hiring for

igation manager in Greenville.

the office.

While the Sodoma Law Greenville office is focused on all aspects of family law and divorce, clients will have access to a range of practice areas including estate planning and mediation and surrogacy and adoption, the release said.

The Cornelius office opened less than two years ago, the firm said.

The Greenville Triumph Soccer Club hired Josh Lorenzen as director of business administration and finance and Gio Cañas as account executive. Lorenzen previously worked as athletics director of business operations at Clemson University. Cañas is a graduate of the University of South Carolina Upstate.


J. Benjamin Stevens, a principal and shareholder at Offit Kurman’s Spartanburg office, has been named president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He will take office in November.

Jackson Lewis P.C. named Ellison F. McCoy the office managing principal in Greenville. He succeeds Stephanie E. Satterfield, who is stepping down to focus on her additional leadership roles, including co-leading the firm’s litigation group and serving as office managing principal in Charlotte. Chase Samples will assume the role of office lit-

Kim, Lahey & Killough Law Firm hired Robert Merting as an attorney in the firm’s Greenville office. Merting’s primary focus will be intellectual property, corporate law and regulatory compliance.

Wyche hired Ming Lee as a corporate attorney. Lee focuses his practice on general corporate matters, including mergers, acquisitions and corporate governance.

Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd P.A. announced that shareholder Kathy C. McKinney has been elected to serve a four-year term as an independent director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta board of directors.


Carol Reeves retired as CEO and executive director of Just Say Something. She led the organization since the mid 1980s. Phillip Clark has been named by the board of directors to serve the organization as CEO and executive director. He started working for the organization in 1992 and most recently served as the associate director.

The Center for Developmental Services announced the appointment of Gerardo Cisneros, Jason Misrahi, Johanna Perez, Dominic Picciuto and Anthony “Tony” Toklo to its board of directors. Gerardo is the vice president of finance at Current Lighting (formerly Hubbell Lighting). Misrahi is founder of Stitch Street. Perez is the state director of member and community engagement at Molina Healthcare. Picciuto is founder of the Greenville location of Total Quality Logistics. Toklo is the chief marketing officer for Davis-Standard. 21 February 2023 Page 22
Cole Cantrell Garren Moore Elsey Lorenzen Cañas McCoy Merting Lee McKinney Reeves Clark



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tion and job training, housing and community development, workforce development and entrepreneurship.

Southern First posts results

Southern First Bancshares Inc., holding company for Southern First Bank, said net income for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 was $5.5 million, compared to $12 million the prior-year quarter. Diluted earnings per common share were 68 cents per share, compared to $1.49 a year ago. Total loans increased 31% to $3.3 billion from a year ago and deposits increased 22% to $3.1 billion.


Timmons Arena receives $10 million

Businessman and philanthropist Ravenel

B. Curry III pledged $10 million to Furman University for renovations to Timmons Arena, home to the Paladins’ men’s and women’s basketball programs. The gift is the largest in Furman Athletics history and will be the cornerstone of a $40 million project, funded primarily by donations, to make Timmons a premier venue among mid-major universities in compared to $1.49 a year ago. Total loans increased 31% to $3.3 billion from a year ago and deposits increased 22% to $3.1 billion.

. Insurer receives SC license

Synergy Comp Insurance Co., a workers’ compensation insurer headquartered in Sharon, Pa., said it received a license to write business in South Carolina. Synergy currently serves employers in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The company partners with local independent agents to provide services.

AT&T adds retailer in Greenville

AT&T said expanded its authorized retailer footprint with Greenville-based Integrity Stores. Integrity Stores owns and operates AT&T retail stores, providing wireless service, phones, accessories and home streaming and internet services. Integrity Stores opened their first location in December in Anderson and plans to add three Upstate stores in 2023.

Greenville Tech ranked among top online schools

Autobell Car Wash buys new locations

Autobell Car Wash said it expanded in the Upstate market with the acquisition of three locations in Greenville, Greer and Simpsonville. The family-owned company now operates 12 locations in South Carolina. The new locations are 620 Northeast Main St. in Simpsonville, 1536 Woodruff Road in Greenville and 401 S. Buncombe Road in Greer.

Bright and Co. adds sister company

Bright and Co. announced the launch of sister company OrangeWIPTM (Work In Progress), a multimedia company. The multimedia platform offers entrepreneurs and innovators with unfiltered storytelling through how-to guides, the “Hello Chaos” podcast, social chatter wall, resource directory, localized event calendars and more.

Greenville Technical College said it ranked No. 97 out of the top 200 online learning colleges in the nation in a list compiled by Newsweek and global data firm Statista Inc. The ranking is based on a survey of online learners and research into institutions providing online education, the college said. The America’s Top Online Colleges 2023 list highlights the nation’s top colleges with online degrees based on an online survey with more than 11,400 assessments from more than 9,000 respondents that participated in online college degree programs and/or general online learning courses in the United States.

Tacos ‘N Tequila Fiesta is April 30

The 2023 Tacos ‘N Tequila Fiesta will be April 30at High Spirits Hospitality’s new location, Events at Judson Mill, 701 Easley Bridge Road, Greenville. This year’s festival will feature a culinary competition, bartender battles and live entertainment. Any restaurants or bartenders wishing to participate can visit to register.

22 February 2023 Submit items using our online submission portal: Publication is subject to editorial discretion.
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million Ravenel to Furman

Timmons and womthe largest will be the project, funded Timmons a universities

Total loans a year ago billion. workers’ headquartered in Shato write Synergy currentGeorgia, Michigan, New Pennsylvania, South The comindependent agents said it 200 online in a list global data based on research online educaAmerica’s Top highlights the degrees more than than 9,000 in online and/or generthe United April 30 Fiesta will Hospitality’s Judson Mill, Greenville. feature a culibattles restauparticihttps://www.tacotequilaregister.



Economy finally sees reluctant workers returning

One of the many economic mysteries since the economy dipped into recession in March 2020 is, where did all the workers go? The labor force at the beginning of the recession was 164.5 million workers.

These people were either employed or actively seeking employment. Like all economic indicators the labor force plunged during the recession. It finally re-attained its pre-recession level in November. But the labor force is supposed to grow roughly in line with the population. If it had done so in the past three years the labor force would be about 2.5 million bigger today than it is.

It appears that perhaps 1.0 million of those workers retired and 0.5 million died from COVID. The other 1.0 million workers left the labor force for reasons that are unclear. But suddenly in December and January the labor force rose by 1.3 million workers. Could it be that some of those folks who left the labor force are now actually looking for jobs? If that is the case it changes the entire economic outlook for 2023. More jobs mean more people are earning a steady income and consumers have more spending power.

Given that these additional labor force participants are finding employment, more jobs means that the unemployment rate may not rise much between now and yearend. GDP growth for the year may not be the 1.0% that had been generally expected, but something faster. A continuing tight labor market will maintain upward pressure on wages which will, in turn, make it more difficult for inflation to return to the Fed’s 2.0% target.

The soft landing scenario of slow growth combined with lower inflation that most economists had envisioned for 2023 may be totally off the mark, replaced by faster growth, little decline in the inflation rate, and higher interest rates.

If the labor force is 2.5 million workers short of where it ought to be, what happened to them? About 1.0 million or so retired and another 0.5 million died from COVID. The reasons for the remaining 1.0 million workers not returning to work are less clear.

But in December and January the labor force jumped by 1.3 million workers and all of them found jobs as the unemployment rate fell 0.2% to 3.4%. Our sense is that the expectation of a deteriorating economic environment may have changed some of those missing workers’ opinion

about employment. Of the estimated 1.0 million workers who retired, at the time of their retirement the stock market was soaring. But in the past year the stock market has fallen 15%.

At the same time, home prices had been rising 1.0-1.5% per month for two years which resulted in 20% gains in a year. But now, the value of their home has begun to fall and is likely to continue declining by 0.5-1.0% per month. As a result, those

year-over-year increases will be replaced by year-over-declines within a couple of months.

Meanwhile, most economists are expecting a recession at some point in 2023. If that happens, monthly job gains will turn into declines and finding a job will be more challenging. Better to seek employment now than wait.

Against that background, it is possible that some of those early retirees may ques-

tion whether they have enough money to last through the end of their lifetime. If the answer to that question is “no” the allure of a steady job could entice them back into the labor market.

When economic times were booming a year ago some labor force participants may have given up their day job and begun to trade Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. When they stop looking for a job they fall out of the labor force. But the demise of FTX, Genesis, and others has undoubtedly bankrupted some of these day traders who now need steady employment.

If more workers re-enter the labor force the monthly employment gains between now and yearend will be substantial. We are expecting payroll employment to rise by 205 thousand per month compared to monthly gains of 356,000 in the most recent three-month period — substantially slower, but still positive. With employment gains of that magnitude going forward the current 3.4% unemployment rate may only rise slightly between now and yearend to perhaps 3.8%.

The Fed believes it needs to create some slack in the labor market (i.e., push the unemployment rate higher to perhaps 4.5%) to alleviate the wage pressures that are preventing the inflation rate from falling more quickly. If that is the path for the labor market going forward, the Fed is not going to have the ability to lower rates between now and yearend.

With more sizable employment gains GDP growth is likely to be faster than expected. Prior to the employment report most economists expected first quarter GDP growth of 0.5%. Now it is about 2.0%. The widely expected growth slowdown keeps getting pushed farther and farther down the road. The expected slowdown later in the year may, or may not, materialize.

From 1980 until 2003, when he retired, Stephen Slifer served as chief U.S. economist for Lehman Brothers in New York City, directing the firm’s U.S. economics group along with being responsible for forecasts and analysis of the U.S. economy. He has written two books on using economic indicators to forecast financial moves and previously served as a senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. Slifer can be reached at


February 2023
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