City of Florence continues its growth

City of Florence continues its growth

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – What makes a city successful?

It was a question WMBF News sought to answer with the help of an article in "The Atlantic" called "Eleven Signs a City will Succeed."

That checklist was taken to Florence to see if the city fits with the author's notion of success.

When someone thinks of what defines a successful city, they could think of plenty of job opportunities or a growing economy.

Bryan Fisher, Owner of Seminar Brewery in Florence said, "You expect to see some sort of cultural arts center, you expect to see good restaurants, you expect to see a couple bars, of course a brewery," said Bryan Fisher, owner of Florence's Seminar Brewery. "I think with anything you have to see what people are looking for."

The author of the article, "Eleven Signs a City will Succeed," is James Fallows. It was during a 54,000 mile journey he and his wife took around America that he made the checklist of 11 criteria.

Fallows wrote about the benefit of a city being near a research university and how it can lift the economy on a short- and long-term level.

Dr. Luther Carter, president of Francis Marion University, has served the college for the past 17 years and said he has seen his university do just that in Florence.

"People frequently come to Florence with the expectation particularly young in their career, and they say, 'Well, we'll stay here three or four years,' and what we find is they stay for decades," Carter said.

When public and private partnerships are real and evident in a city, Fallows wrote that it points to true success. In Florence, it witnessed the construction of the $35 million Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center in the downtown area.

"That won three national awards within the first two years of its opening," Carter said.

FMU is also getting a new $55 million health and sciences building, both of which were completely paid for even before opening.

"You know, that was a partnership; nonprofit, private, public entities," Carter said.

Another sign of success, Fallows noted, was the city has a downtown.

The central intersection of Florence, Dargan and Evans streets is what the city calls the heart of their thriving downtown.

That was not always the case, said Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela, who noted the downtown area used to be abandoned, decaying and divided the city.

"All of those things are now reversed. You got a downtown that brings the community together, is very, very integrated, that is moving forward at an extremely fast pace that's seeing well over a hundred million dollars of investment and is an example of this city at its best," Wukela said.

Fallows also explained in the article how downtown ambitions of any sort are a positive sign.

That ambition is seen right now with new restaurants, apartment living, a rooftop bar, a new Hyatt hotel coming and more.

"All of these happening essentially at the same time, and that creates a lot of momentum," Wukela said. "It gets developers excited, it makes them reassured their development and investment is safe, and it gives the community a sense of motion."

Throughout Fallows' journey around America he said that having a craft brewery is the most reliable sign that a city will have success, and a certain kind of entrepreneur.

Fisher said his brewery all started as a dream of five friends who did home brewing, and just two years ago Seminar Brewery became the first commercial craft brewery that Florence has ever seen.

"We go to beer festivals all over the state and people come and say, 'Florence?' Fisher said. "Because they have an association from 10 years ago and they are surprised to see a brewery in Florence, and actually really happy about it and happy to see the town growing and embracing new things like craft beer."

Seminar Brewery, whose beer is served in almost every single restaurant in Florence, is expanding its footprint in places like Columbia, Rock Hill, Greenville and Charleston.

"They draw in young people, they draw in folks from throughout the state and the country," Wukela said. "You can't overstate the importance of breweries or restaurants or hotels, these quality of life amenities that make Florence an enjoyable place to live."

Fallows explained that, in successful cities, divisive national politics are a distant concern.

"Everybody likes to watch the national arena simply because it's amusing, especially this year it's extraordinary, out of the ordinary," Carter said. "But I think Florence is very, very careful as a community to draw the distinction, divide the question between those broader national issues and getting down to business locally and accomplishing things."

Carter said that is seen with someone like Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who is a Republican, and Wukela, who is a Democrat.

"Frequently on issues you'll find they are political allies, because their interests are furthering the interest of this city, of this county, of this Pee Dee region, rather than dabbling in broader national divide," he said.

Another symbol of success Fallows wrote was that a city has big plans that not only shows transparency, but shows its people that city leaders have vision.

"We've kind of outpaced our plan and what they anticipated we would do in 15 or 20 years, we've done in 5 years, so we're accelerating that plan," Wukela said.

The mayor said that means the community always plays a role, and any city, just like Florence, can have infinite possibilities.

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