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Inaugural education summit seeks to create better Florence business leaders

A regional education summit was held Wednesday at the Florence Civic Center. (Source: Clay Williams / Florence-Darlington Technical College) A regional education summit was held Wednesday at the Florence Civic Center. (Source: Clay Williams / Florence-Darlington Technical College)

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - The city of Florence is doing their part to create a better workforce and continually grow their economy, but they need the education leaders to help do it.

The organization behind it is the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, which hosted its first-ever Regional Education Summit Wednesday morning.

Chamber President Mike Miller said it is happening now because their goal is to create a more education-focused strategy to reach people.

Miller said education is a key driver for any economy, and didn’t feel like they were doing what they should the past few years. The education summit was an effort to bring people together and hear from those who know the education community in the Pee Dee the most.

The chamber held the event at the Florence Civic Center and invited Hood Temple, the 7th District Commissioner on higher education in South Carolina, to talk about updates on current state initiatives and programs. Dr. Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University, was also on hand to discuss the strides FMU is making in the health science program. 

Also in attendance was Dr. Ben Dillard, the president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, who talked about the recent expansion into automotive HVAC training.

Dillard said there is a waiting list and this expansion will help solve that. He added FDTC does a remarkable job in the area of producing highly skilled jobs with a strong potential income, and that helps grow the local industry.

The first step, Miller explained, in the chamber's goal is to improve the local workforce by improving education.

"Bring the community closer to what’s happening within the education system," he said. "People have to become more aware of it. It’s different today than it was 20 years ago.”

Miller said what the chamber does for the community is directly related to what comes out of the school system in the Pee Dee.

The city wants to give students the opportunity to grow and stay in the Pee Dee area. Miller wanted to begin that conversation between business and education leaders.

“I think it was a captive audience and people heard things they haven’t heard before, and those are the types of conversation sessions we need to have, but with more and more people," he said. "And while we had 110 people there this morning, we probably would have loved to see 600 because there is more than 600 people that need to know what is happening.”

Carter said he wants to make a different in the local firms, businesses and hospitals. 

“Of course what we’ve been talking about lately for the last 10 years or so is the growth of the university in areas like the health sciences, nurse practitioner program, nurse educator program, new physician assistance program," he said. 

Carter applauded the chamber for holding an event like Wednesday's to help start the movement.

"This was the education community talking with the business community, establishing a dialogue around what the need is and what the supply is,” he said.

Chamber officials said because the education summit went over so well, they hope to expand it even more and make it a yearly event and continue to be more involved with all of the education systems in the Pee Dee.

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