FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Elected officials, business owners and Fairfield County residents gathered Monday for Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce’s 70th annual Membership Celebration.
“What a lovely, lovely group of business and community members,” said Terry Vickers, president of the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.
The annual meeting included awards, a guest speaker, a review of the Chamber’s recent activity, and dinner.
Ford Graham, director of global business development for the S.C. Department of Commerce, was the membership meeting’s featured speaker.
“This young man, Ford Graham, grew up down the road from us in Camden,” said Mike Kelly, who transitioned from Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce chairman to Ex-Officio during the meeting.
Kelly shared Graham’s background, which includes being a Peace Corp veteran, a multilinguist, ex-student body president of Tulane University, and a clerk for the Mike Kelly Law Group, in addition to his current role with the South Carolina Department of Commerce.
Graham spoke positively about South Carolina’s economic growth.
“There is no other state that is growing as fast as we are,” Graham said.
Graham cited a 13.5 percent job growth rate in manufacturing as evidence of positive economic development in South Carolina.
The director of global business development for South Carolina Department of Commerce said while South Carolina may not have the cachet associated with larger metropolitan areas, he believes South Carolina is competitive globally.
“We are not a New York, we’re not a Chicago, we’re not an L.A., we’re not a Miami, but those are terrible places to do business,” Graham said.
Graham said South Carolina’s growth also compares favorably to locations overseas.
“The trajectory (in South Carolina) is much more promising than in Europe,” Graham said.
Graham said manufacturing growth and the arrival of companies such as Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, Enor, Hidral and BOMAG are why some economic circles refer to South Carolina as “The Beast of the Southeast.”
Kelly shared encouraging Fairfield County-centric statistics during his recap of Chamber’s year.
This included sharing the news that 122,000 visitors to the county — of which 6,200 were day trips — almost 1 million visits to Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce’s website with web traffic from 75 different countries contributing to the total and an increase of more than $10 million in gross sales.
Kelly also summarized some of the year’s Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce-involved events, which included the Ag+Art Tour, the Wings and Wheels Air Show, Rock Around the Clock festival, monthly member breakfasts and ribbon cuttings.
“It’s been a busy year,” Kelly said.
Kelly ceremonially passed the board of trustees’ gavel to new chair Tina Johnson.
Malik Pete and Hannah Silvia were recognized as the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce Scholarship recipients from Fairfield Central High School and Richard Winn Academy, respectively.
The Fitz-John Creighton McMaster Industry of the Year award was presented to Ben Arnold Beverage Company. The Fitz-John Creighton McMaster Small Business of the Year recipient was Independent Body.
Drew Fitz-Maurice, Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce board member, presented the small business award.
“The founder’s motto is, ‘If you want cheap, go somewhere else. If you want it right, bring it to us,” Fitz-Maurice said. “I think that’s something everyone can get behind.”
Sam Endenfield, Independent Body owner, said his employees and customers made the recognition possible.
John Smalls, Carolina Event Center owner and Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce board member, presented the award for industry of the year.
“Tonight we honor a company that has been in operation for 16 years in Fairfield County,” Smalls said.
Smalls said in addition to innovation and business success, the industry of the year is active and helpful in the community.
“This industry is active in numerous local charities and is dedicated to giving back to the community,” Smalls said.