FLORENCE (WMBF) - A locally owned business is moving its headquarters to downtown Florence, bringing about 20 new jobs to the area, Florence City Councilman Robby Hill confirmed Thursday morning.
Carolina Bank is moving into the old Art Trail Gallery at the corner of Irby and Evans Streets. It is a $4.8 million dollar investment and expansion going into the old Bo Smith building.
"Florence is proud to welcome Carolina Bank's headquarters as well as an all new retail branch to our burgeoning downtown at the corner of Irby and Dargan. We know they will be another strong member of our growing business community in our City's center," Hill said.
The company, which opened its first office in Lamar in 1936, already owns the building and is in the process of arranging construction on its new headquarters.
WMBF News first told you about plans for this development in January of 2015. At the time it was only known as "Project Morgan."
Jamie Morphis, the Senior Vice President of Carolina Bank for the past 30 years said it's time to make an even stronger physical presence in Florence and said there is no better place than downtown. They have a large market of three other locations in the city, and this will make four, and Morphis said the bank is continuing its own growth. The current headquarters are in Darlington Main Square, which will remain as a retail branch, once the Florence downtown building is complete.
Morphis explained a retail branch will be on the first floor of the new building, financial, mortgage and insurance services on the second floor, and the bank will add a third floor to the building where the IT department and administrative offices will sit. Morphis added their involvement with financing projects in downtown already points to the success they want to be a part of.
Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela talked with WMBF News and he also explained the involvement Carolina Bank has had with private investment projects like Hotel Florence. He said, "At a time those investments were not as secure as they are now." He added, "You know Carolina Bank is no stranger to Florence by a long shot. They have well known branches here and numerous depositors in Florence, it just makes sense to have their headquarters here."
Wukela said the project really goes beyond just the physical impact of being on the busy corner, but on a much larger scale of future investment that can potentially come from the project. He explained, "Right in that central historical district and to make a 4.8 million dollar investment there that follows numerous other investments they've made in loans to other private entities. I think it gives a further level of confidence to those who would consider investing in downtown."
Investment the city of Florence said takes people to believe in the stability of downtown, the safety, and the momentum of a growing area. The agreement the city entered with Carolina Bank started November 2015 when the city agreed to a $600,000 dollar incentive. The money came from the city's utility reserve fund, and just under $300,000 was to purchase the building, and the other half will be used for renovations.
Wukela explained the contract estimates a $30 million dollar economic impact from the project, directly and indirectly going into the city. Wukela said that number comes from a formula given by the Florence County Economic Development Partnership and is endorsed by the South Carolina Department of Commerce. He said the city would never agree to a project agreement unless there was strong certainty the tax dollars and water and sewer usage is greater than the incentive, in this case, Wukela said it is.
"I think what you're seeing is a healthy diversity and in an area that is growing and growing pretty rapidly, said Wukela.
The art trail gallery is run by downtown development and moved into a permanent location on Dargan street.
Carolina Bank owners hope to be all moved in to their new headquarters by December 2017.