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Landrum chef Sarah McClure chosen as SC Chef Ambassador for 2018

Sarah McClure, chef and manager of Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, was named as one of South Carolina's Chef Ambassadors for 2018.

For a second consecutive year, a Spartanburg County chef will serve as one of South Carolina’s culinary ambassadors.

Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday, Dec. 8, named Sarah McClure, chef and manager of Southside Smokehouse in downtown Landrum, to the list of the state’s four Chef Ambassadors for 2018.

Chefs Kiki Cyrus with Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles in Columbia, Heidi Vukov with Croissants Bistro & Bakery and Hook & Barrel in Myrtle Beach, and Michelle Weaver with Charleston Grill in Charleston, were also named to the list.

The chefs were announced during a ceremony Friday at the Statehouse in Columbia.

“These four women are among the best and brightest culinary stars in our state,” McMaster said. “Being named as an S.C. Chef Ambassador allows these chefs to shine a unique spotlight on not only their exceptional talents but also on the destinations in South Carolina where they live and work.”

McClure’s selection to the list was announced during a ceremony at the Statehouse in Columbia on Friday, Dec. 8. Here she stands beside S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers and in front of Gov. Henry McMaster and Duane Parrish, executive director of SCPRT.

McClure will follow in the footsteps of fellow Spartanburg chef William Cribb, who, in 2017, became the county’s first selection to the list.

Founded in 2014 by Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers, and the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (SCPRT), the Chef Ambassadors program highlights the Palmetto State’s locally grown crops and culinary talent.

Each year, four chef ambassadors from across the state are chosen from a pool of nominees to attend events, perform cooking demonstrations, conduct educational discussions, and promote the offerings of the communities where they are based.

“I am very honored,” said McClure, 31, originally of Landrum. “As a chef, it’s important to build relationships with fellow chefs, farmers, and others in the industry. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

To celebrate the achievement, McClure was presented with a blue chef’s jacket embroidered with her name and the Chef Ambassador logo.

“I’ve watched in amazement the growth in Landrum and the whole of Spartanburg County,” McClure added. “I can’t wait to tell that story to others outside of our community. Landrum, I think, is uniquely positioned to benefit from the food scenes in Spartanburg, Greenville, and Asheville.”

McClure, who hails from a family of restaurateurs, graduated from Landrum High School in 2004. She attended Wofford College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history.

While she was pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Georgia, McClure fell in love with food.

She went to work at The National restaurant in Athens, Ga., where she learned from chef Peter Dale.

In 2012, McClure moved back to Landrum to run the kitchen at her family’s restaurant.

She said she has remained true to Southside Smokehouse’s menu comprised of fare that ranges from classic American to Cajun and barbecue.

But McClure has put her own stamp on the business with chef specials that incorporate fish or game, seasonal produce, and pastas.

On their days off, McClure said she and her husband frequent their favorite dining spots in Spartanburg, which include Willy Taco, Miyako Sushi Group, and The Farmer’s Table.

“Food is what I spend all of my extra time and money on,” she said. “Whenever we travel, we do a lot of eating. I might read about something, and I always try to think about how I can make it more accessible and affordable.”

McClure and Spartanburg chef William Cribb, who served as a Chef Ambassador in 2017.

McClure said she once put a rabbit dish on the menu and was concerned that customers wouldn’t like it.

“I put it with a nice mushroom cream sauce just to make it more appetizing,” she said. “It ended up being a huge hit.”

McClure said she is excited to serve as a Chef Ambassador during the year that the Tryon International Equestrian Center will host the World Equestrian Games.

The event is expected to bring more than 500,000 visitors to the region and have an estimated $400 million economic impact.

“I think Sarah is awesome,” Cribb said. “Her family is awesome. The more we can do to get Spartanburg on the map, the better. It was an honor to serve as a Chef Ambassador. I wish her the best of luck during the coming year.”

McClure is featured in the Hub City Writers Project’s new “Taste of Spartanburg” book, which was unveiled in November.

“Spartanburg County’s food scene is really starting to make its mark,” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are so excited to have a Chef Ambassador in back-to-back years. This will create a lot of great exposure for the community and provide residents in other parts of the region a taste of the authenticity we offer.”

SCPRT spokeswoman Kim Jamieson said this is the first year that all of the Chef Ambassadors chosen are female.

“When we started this, one thing we wanted to focus on was highlighting the undiscovered communities in South Carolina,” Jamieson said. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic year.”

Riley Institute names Wilkins award winners

Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden, a former astronaut and administrator of NASA, will receive the David H. Wilkins Award for Excellence in Civic Leadership. Photo by NASA.

Furman University’s Riley Institute has announced the winners of its David H. Wilkins Awards for Excellence.

Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort and Jasper counties, will receive the Award for Excellence in Legislative Leadership, and Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden, a former astronaut and administrator of NASA, will receive the Award for Excellence in Civic Leadership.

The awards dinner will take place at Columbia’s Metropolitan Convention Center on Tuesday, Jan. 9, the first night of the 2018 legislative session.

Newton, who was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 2013, is “known for working across the aisle on legislation that improves the lives of South Carolinians,” according to a press release. He is the chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee and also serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Bolden, who was born and raised in Columbia, spent 34 years in the Marine Corps, earning military decorations like the Defense Superior Service Medal and Distinguishing Flying Cross. He also spent 14 years as a NASA astronaut, orbiting Earth four times and deploying the Hubble Space Telescope. Bolden most recently served as the 12th administrator of NASA under former President Barack Obama.

“At a time when civility in public discourse and cooperative bipartisanship are critical to making progress, South Carolina’s citizens look to their leaders to put aside differences and work together for the good of our state,” said Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute. “Weston and Charles exemplify the kind of leadership that moves our state forward.”

The annual awards are named for David H. Wilkins, who served as speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives and as U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Wilkins will co-host the event with former U.S. Secretary of Education and former two-term Governor of South Carolina Dick Riley and Furman President Elizabeth Davis.

A reception for all registered attendees will begin at 6 p.m. on Jan. 9, with the dinner and awards presentation following at 7 p.m. Tickets are $125 each and can be purchased by calling 864-235-8330 or visiting the Riley Institute website.

Carolina Alliance Bank adds Howard as SVP and relationship manager of Greenville office


Spartanburg-based Carolina Alliance Bank on Thursday, Dec. 7, announced it has hired Andrew Howard as senior vice president and relationship manager of its Greenville office.

Howard has more than 15 years of banking experience in the Upstate. His specialty is commercial lending, the bank said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Clemson University and graduated from East Carolina University’s Risk Management Association (RMA) Advanced Commercial Lending School of Banking.

Howard has served as a board member for the Judson YMCA, treasurer of the Upstate Network, and a loaned executive for the United Way of Greenville County. He is a member of the commercial real estate group CREW and the local chapter of RMA.

“Andrew brings a wealth of proven leadership and experience to his role with Carolina Alliance,” said David Barnett, president of Carolina Alliance Bank’s Western Region, in a statement. “His extensive commercial banking knowledge and commitment to the community make him an excellent addition to our staff.”

Howard can be reached by email at ahoward@carolinaalliancebank.com, or by phone at 864-335-3263.

Ellipsis Technologies releases app to combat form spam

Photo provided.

Ellipses Technologies, a Greenville-based web security company, has released a new Shopify app to help online retailers combat form spam.

The app, called Shop Protector, allows websites to automatically detect human visitors and block unwanted traffic from bots, reducing the need for Turing tests – those codes, math problems, and puzzles that people must solve to prove they are human.

“We developed the Shop Protector technology to solve the problems that our e-commerce clients had experienced using traditional techniques to detect bot traffic,” said Bill West, CEO of Ellipsis Technologies.

Bots are computer programs designed by humans to perform automated tasks on the internet. Search engines like Google, for instance, use bots to catalog information from websites. But hackers also use bots to perform malicious acts on the internet, from stealing credit card numbers from an online store to crashing entire servers.

Many websites use Turing tests to combat malicious bots, West said. But the tests can frustrate customers and lead to lost sales. In fact, 3 percent of internet users log off immediately when they encounter a Turing test.

Shop Protector, however, uses “proprietary algorithmic models” to identify and block malicious bot activity on a website within milliseconds, allowing human visitors to proceed without interference from Turing tests.

“Our approach is unique in that it focuses on modeling human behaviors, rather than just spotting bot markers to clearly identify a human presence on the site,” said West. “With the Shop Protector solution, we can greatly improve the user experience for human online shoppers by invisibly detecting spambots and other malicious bots while eliminating the need to subject human site visitors to validation testing of any kind.”

For more information, visit ellipsistech.io.

Duke Energy customer information may have been compromised in data breach

Photo provided

More than 300,000 Duke Energy customers in North and South Carolina may have had their personal and banking information stolen.

Duke Energy announced on Tuesday, Dec. 5, that customers who paid a bill at one of the Charlotte, N.C.-based company’s 550 authorized walk-in payment processing centers between 2008 and 2017 may have been affected by a data breach.

“We regret the frustration and inconvenience this issue has created for our customers who rely on our authorized walk-in locations to pay their monthly energy bills,” Lesley Quick, Duke Energy’s vice president of revenue services, said in a statement.

The data breach only affects customers who paid by check or cash; it does not affect customers who paid with a bank card or another form of payment.

The walk-in payment sites included grocery stores, convenience stores, and other businesses that accept payments for other companies, according to a press release.

Evidence of a data breach was uncovered in July when TIO Networks, a payment processing vendor, was purchased by PayPal Holdings Inc. The potentially compromised data includes names, addresses, Duke Energy account numbers and balances, and banking information, if a customer paid by check.

“This TIO Networks issue has possibly and unfortunately affected some of our customers, and we are doing all we can to help,” Quick said. “We have remained in daily contact with our vendor since they abruptly and unexpectedly disabled their network on Nov. 10 for suspected security vulnerabilities.”

Both Duke and PayPal said their own systems were not compromised.

TIO is currently working with the companies it services to send letters to customers who were potentially affected by the data breach. The letter will include detailed questions and answers and a phone number for additional information.

The company plans to offer 12 months of free credit monitoring to anyone affected by the breach and 24 months of free credit monitoring to anyone whose Social Security number was shared without authorization.

Duke Energy customers in South Carolina can continue to make payments in person at any Western Union location, or they can pay by check, debit, or credit card online or by calling 800-777-9898. Customers who believe they may be impacted or have questions should visit TIO Networks for more information.

Sonoco announces $2.7M packaging initiative with Clemson

Photo provided.

Sonoco has partnered with Clemson University to develop new technologies and forms of packaging to improve the fresh food life cycle and combat waste.

The Hartsville-based global diversified packaging company will contribute $1.725 million over a five-year period to the Sonoco FRESH (Food Research Excellence for Safety and Health) initiative, which aims to establish a multidisciplinary hub for innovation and research to advance fresh food packaging and distribution. Sonoco will also sponsor business-driven research projects totaling $1 million.

“Sonoco is committed to serving fresh brands, using packaging to tackle the challenges they face,” said Sonoco President and CEO Jack Sanders. “Optimizing fresh food packaging to extend shelf life and maintain quality makes fresh produce more accessible to communities, and helps brands and retailers extend sales opportunities and eliminate food waste.”

“Each year, the food industry loses $15.6 billion due to food spoilage at retail,” he added. “Modifying packaging design to extend shelf life by even one day can recover $1.8 billion of that loss — while feeding more people and reducing waste to landfills.”

Sonoco FRESH is an extension of the partnership that created the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson, which was created to “exploit the synergies that exist between the graphic communications and packaging science departments,” according to its website. The institute says it is the only university program in the country with a multidisciplinary approach to packaging as a core competency.

“We are honored to be working with Clemson, as reducing food waste is central to our combined efforts — and finding ways to extend freshness through new technology is key,” said Vicki Arthur, Sonoco’s senior vice president of plastic packaging and protective solutions. “We believe this partnership will deliver breakthroughs to help the entire packaging industry, and will have a major impact on the distribution of fresh food across the country and around the world.”

Starbucks plans to open first location in downtown Spartanburg

Seattle-based coffee retailer Starbucks plans to open a new store at 156 W. Main St. in downtown Spartanburg.

Starbucks will apparently join downtown Spartanburg’s food and beverage scene.

A banner bearing the Seattle-based coffee giant’s logo and the words “Coming Soon” was placed Thursday, Dec. 7, above the doorway of a space at 156 W. Main St. beside TJC Gallery near Morgan Square.

The nearly 1,800-square-foot space has sat vacant since March, when its previous tenant Pink on Main relocated to 115 W. Main St.

“We’re excited to share that we are in the early stages of bringing a location to downtown Spartanburg, and we anticipate an opening next spring,” Starbucks said Thursday in a statement. “We’re looking forward to being part of the community and will have further details to share as we get closer to the store’s opening.”

Property records showed the building is owned by South Phifer Properties, an affiliate of Spartanburg-based Johnson Development Associates.

Geordy Johnson, CEO of Johnson Development, said he was not at liberty to discuss specific details about the project, but said he is excited about the momentum building in downtown.

“Johnson Development is very excited about Starbucks’ plans to open a store in downtown Spartanburg,” Johnson said. “It is an iconic brand that will be a positive addition to our rapidly growing downtown.”

Among downtown Spartanburg’s assemblage of dining and retail establishments, Starbucks would only be the third national or global chain in the mix.

The Subway restaurant at 156 Magnolia St. and Abbott’s Frozen Custard at 100 E. Main St. are the only two currently present.

Starbucks will have to compete with Spartanburg-based Little River Roasting Co.’s Coffee Bar, a popular local gathering spot, just down the street at 188 W. Main St.

Abram and Heather Curtis, owners of the Greenville-based coffeehouse/creamery concept Spill the Beans, plan to open a new store in spring 2018 in a 2,500-square-foot space on the ground floor of the Aug W. Smith Building at 174 E. Main St. near Denny’s Plaza.

Jansen Tidmore, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s new Downtown Development Partnership, said he believes there is room in the market for locally owned establishments and an international outfit like Starbucks.

Tidmore said he views the project as a positive for downtown.

“With the new AC Hotel attracting a range of business and leisure travelers to downtown, Starbucks will allow us to serve more people,” Tidmore said. “This won’t gobble up the pie. It will grow the pie. I think both models will be sustainable and they will be able to feed off of each other.”

Passersby stopped to take photos of the banner with their cellphones on Thursday. Most appeared excited to see the Starbucks brand appear in downtown.

“When an international company like Starbucks decides to plant its flag anywhere, I think it’s a sign that they believe in the market,” said Denise Mehl, co-owner of The Crepe Factory at 137 W. Main St. “Obviously, Starbucks sees the potential in downtown Spartanburg. We are pleased with the momentum in the community and hopeful that it will continue move in a positive direction.”

Starbucks has three stand-alone locations in Spartanburg County, including its recently remodeled original Spartanburg store at 805 N. Pine St., a store at 210 W. Blackstock Road across from WestGate Mall, and a store at 1513 E. Main St. in Duncan.

A fourth store is under construction beside the Popeyes’ Louisiana Kitchen off Highway 9 in Boiling Springs.

CBS Radio-Entercom merger will lead to little change in the Upstate


By M.A. Clark

After announcing a merger creating one of the largest radio station groups in the country, CBS Radio and Entercom Corp. have become one.

Entercom is the owner and operator of 106.3 FM WORD, B 93.7 FM, Classic Rock 101.1 FM, Magic 98.9 FM, 93.3 The Planet, ESPN Upstate, and The Block in the Upstate.

The merger with CBS Radio makes Entercom the owner of 235 radio stations in 48 markets across the country, including 23 of the top 25 markets.

While the merger creates a wider footprint for Pennsylvania-based Entercom, company COO Weezie Kramer said listeners will only continue to get the content and programming they have been accustomed to.

“Our plan is to continue to deliver the top-rated content that our listeners have come to expect from us,” Kramer said. “Now, being one of the country’s two largest radio broadcasters means more access to cool content and experiences that benefit both our listeners and our advertising partners.”

Kramer said the merger will open up the company’s sports platform as Entercom now owns the rights to 45 professional teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the New England Patriots, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Golden State Warriors. Entercom Upstate has the broadcasting rights to the Clemson Tigers and the Carolina Panthers.

“We have more than 40 professional team deals in all of the four major sports and numerous college athletic programs, and we own the CBS Sports Radio Network with syndicated content that airs over 300-plus stations,” Kramer said. “This is a huge opportunity to tap into the local sports fan, and only Entercom can do that.”

The biggest change, Kramer said, will be in the addition of potential advertising opportunities as the Entercom reach stretches from Anchorage, Alaska, to Gainesville, Fla. Kramer said the company now has “that local connection with national scale.”

“Our new scale with our hyperlocal approach allows for a major national retailer to customize their nationwide offering to fit the needs and lifestyle of the consumers in Upstate,” Kramer said. “This is a very interesting proposition for national clients, especially if it’s one-stop shopping with multiplatform opportunities, like digital, events, and other on-the-ground activations in local markets.”

Entercom did divest itself of 16 radio stations in Boston, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Seattle to meet regulatory approval.

The transaction was completed after the exchange offer for CBS shareholders to swap shares of CBS Class B common stock for shares of CBS Radio expired. CBS Radio shares automatically converted to Entercom shares.

“We look forward to capitalizing on our unique positions in sports, news, music, podcasting, live events, digital, and more to provide outstanding experiences for our listeners and compelling integrated marketing opportunities for our advertisers,” said David Field, president and CEO of Entercom Corp., in a news release.

Field remained president of the new company while former CBS Radio president Andre Fernandez served in that role until the merger was complete.

Cybersecurity concerns surround the promise of driverless cars


By Belton Zeigler

Driverless cars and driver-assist systems are poised to change transportation as profoundly and as quickly as the internet has changed shopping and communications. Examples of the first wave of this technology that are on the road now include adaptive cruise control, front crash avoidance, and lane assist systems. When fully implemented, the Automated Vehicle (AV) technology promises to do the following:

  • Slash highway deaths and injuries
  • Eliminate most fender benders
  • Allow interconnected vehicles to flow at top speeds on congested highways
  • Expand transportation options for the disabled and elderly
  • Eventually replace car ownership with fleets of self-driving cars that come when we call and take us wherever we like.

All indications are that this future is coming at us much more quickly than seemed possible before now. But there is a looming pothole – cybersecurity.

 The Cyber Perils of Driverless Cars

In many ways, the digital vehicle is here already. The more advanced cars on the road today employ about 100 million lines of computer code. That code directs more than 100 electronic control devices that run the car. Today’s automobiles are in a sense computers with seats and an engine.

The computer code that runs our cars can hide the sort of malware that lets criminal seize cars and hold them hostage, just as ransomware now does to an innocent victim’s computer controls and data. Imagine malware turning your car into an unresponsive brick on a hot August afternoon in a parking lot far from home. What would you pay to get it back running? And how quickly?

One day, automobile-based malware could allow criminals, terrorists, or hostile governments – known in the cyber world as “threat actors” – to take active control of your car and use it for whatever they want.

White-hat hackers, the ethical hackers who demonstrate what is possible so the good guys can fix problems before disaster strikes, showed in 2014 that it was possible to hack a passenger car and remotely engage the brakes while it was traveling down the road. That particular security flaw was quickly fixed. But what if terrorists or other threat actors could control all of the systems in a hacked car from thousands of miles away? What would a terrorist do with that capability?

Or what if cybercriminals or hostile governments could simply shut down a significant portion of the cars on the road during rush hour in a major city? How would we respond?

AV technology creates chilling opportunities for new forms of crime, terrorism, and cyberwarfare.

Introducing Malware into Automotive Systems

How would malware get into digital vehicles?

 Through Original Equipment

The computer code that will drive the AV revolution will come from tech companies, parts suppliers, and mapping and sensor companies from around the world, many from China and Europe. Malware of a mysterious origin has on occasion been found factory loaded in the operating code of consumer goods like thumb drives and cellphones. Malware in an insignificant place – in the controls of the seat warmers, for example – can be configured to commandeer the car’s internet or Bluetooth connection and download a full control kit from a distant server.

Through Interfaces

There are now multiple ways cars connect with the outside world digitally. Each is a potential pathway for malware, including the following:

  • The internet connection that enables the navigation system to function
  • The Bluetooth interface that connects your phone to the car’s infotainment system
  • The diagnostic ports through which your mechanic can access the car’s on-board computer
  • The USB ports that allow you to plug in thumb drives with song lists

Through V2V Networks

Eventually, cars will be connected to each other through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) networks. Cars within about 1,000 feet of each other will create an ad hoc wireless network to signal each other about their speed and direction, stops and turns, road conditions, and unseen dangers. In March 2017, Cadillac put the first such cars on the road. For now, they can only communicate with their sister Cadillacs.

But in the future, most cars on the road will wirelessly connect to nearby cars. If security flaws allow it, threat actors can exploit V2V networks to push out malware or to spread havoc on the road directly. 

Meeting the Challenges

But there is good news. The automobile industry is well-financed and technologically sophisticated. It has operated for decades under intense safety regulation and has firsthand knowledge of what it costs to ignore safety flaws. A major cyber incident could damage public acceptance of the new AV technology the industry is investing in heavily. The auto industry has every reason to get vehicle cybersecurity right.

Congress is in the early stages of writing the rules of the road for auto cybersecurity. This September, the House of Representatives passed the Self Drive Act. It enables rollout of the next phase of AV technology and handles cybersecurity with a light touch, requiring only that manufacturers develop cybersecurity plans to mitigate threats and establish best practices.

And there are success stories. A number of highly interconnected systems in the United States – the telecommunications system, the banking system, and the electric grid – have so far avoided major cybersecurity catastrophes. In one particularly attractive potential model, industry councils set standards that federal regulators adopt and enforce. This approach could ensure consistency of cyber protection while maximizing the industry’s flexibility and responsiveness.

In the meantime, the auto industry has formed an Internet Security Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) to share research, best practices, and real-time threat information. For obvious reasons, much of what the industry is doing behind the scenes is not being discussed publicly, but it appears that a good deal of work is being done.

The automobile industry has the opportunity to reinvent personal transportation in this country and change our lives profoundly for the better. The effort faces many challenges, and none may be more important than the cybersecurity challenge. Charles de Gaulle once said, “Only peril can bring the French together. One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese.” I suspect the same might be said of the auto industry; it has recognized a common peril, and we will all get to see how the various players in the industry come together to face it.


Belton Zeigler, a partner with Womble Bond Dickinson, has a South Carolina-based practice in cybersecurity, utility, environmental, and energy law. He is a senior member of the firm’s data management and cybersecurity team. Connect with Belton at linkedin.com/in/beltonzeigler.

Study: Spartanburg’s brand awareness among travelers on the rise


Spartanburg County’s reputation as a destination for leisure travel is growing, but local officials will have to invest more money in marketing efforts if they hope to keep the momentum moving forward, according to a new study.

Missouri-based H2R Market Research conducted its Spartanburg 2017 Brand Perception Research study. The firm’s objective was to measure how regional travelers view the county as a leisure destination and provide insight regarding how it compares to its own historic average and to other communities in the South.

H2R said it interviewed 800 travelers within a 500-mile radius of Spartanburg for its research.

Findings showed that Spartanburg’s aided brand awareness increased to 76 percent, compared with its historical average of 67 percent.

The county’s Visitor Growth Indicator (VGI), which measures a brand’s opportunity for growth, registered a score of 765, nearly double the size of the firm’s industry norm of 324.

However, Spartanburg’s conversion rate, or market share divided by market potential, dropped to 13 percent, compared with its historical average of 16 percent.

“We studied the marketing and we said, ‘You know what, let’s go test the branding,'” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “We wanted to see what our real strengths and weaknesses are.”

“This is research-based, so we’re not just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks,” Jennings added.

H2R conducted a study in 2016 that measured the impact of the CVB’s advertising on visitation, travel spending, and return on investment.

The 2016 study found that tourism had a $17.4 million economic impact on the county, while the CVB invested $158,000 in paid advertising during the fiscal year. That means for every $1 spent by the CVB on advertising, there was a more than $110 economic impact.

Overall, the CVB’s marketing reached 4.3 million households and resulted in 32,800 incremental trips, the marketing and media effectiveness study said.

The branding study found that aided brand awareness was 74 percent in Chattanooga, Tenn.; 83 percent in Knoxville, Tenn.; and 78 percent in the Raleigh and Durham, N.C., areas, and 69 percent among residents who live within 500 miles of Spartanburg.

Spartanburg’s advertising awareness increased to 12 percent, compared with an 11 percent historical level.

During the past six months, travelers’ perception of Spartanburg has experienced a net change of 15 percent toward a “somewhat/much more favorable” opinion, according to the study.

The adjectives travelers most associated with Spartanburg included “friendly/welcoming, relevantly Southern, down-to-earth, and traditional,” the study said.

Among a variety of choices, 68 percent of travelers indicated the most appealing brand position — the one that would most likely persuade them to visit Spartanburg — was “History, Food & Fun,” according to the study.

“Spartanburg is most differentiated by its historic sites and museums, being a sports destination, and having the best craft beer/spirits and distilleries,” H2R said in the study.

H2R recommended the county beef up its advertising budget, test to ensure its advertising messages inspire visitation, and spend money on advertising in markets where travelers are most likely to come from.

“Spartanburg’s VGI is quite large, and marketing ROI was excellent last year,” H2R said in the study. “However, both assisted ad awareness and conversion rates remain comparatively low. Stronger reach is needed, but this will likely require the investment of additional marketing funds.”

Jennings said local officials will use the research to help improve marketing efforts during the coming year and in the future.

He said advertising will focused on multiple media channels.

“It’s a great time to visit Spartanburg,” Jennings said. “We are a very unique destination compared to other destinations of our size. … We’re making a lot of progress, and now we’re looking forward to taking it to the next level.”

For Tommy Pike, a car is a blank canvas

Photo by Will Crooks

Inside a large machine shop off Rutherford Road, Tommy Pike stood next to a 1937 Dodge pickup truck, now completely restored and customized with a fresh coast of electric blue paint and enough horsepower to win a street race.

“There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into this truck,” he explained. “The frame was completely rusted over when I found it.”

Last year, Pike was commissioned by Pennzoil Shell to find and restore the classic pickup truck to help celebrate the 80th anniversary of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Mopar parts and service brand. Now it features a full custom chassis for the body and bed, a fresh set of tires, a 5.7-liter HEMI engine, leather seats, stickers, and more.

Pike considers the truck a “career highlight,” but it’s just one of many vehicles that he’s work on during his time as owner of Tommy Pike Customs.

“The industry is full of companies that only work on expensive vehicles. But we’ve never been picky,” he said. “We’ve worked on everything from Ferraris to Jeeps.”

Pike’s passion for automobiles can be traced back to his childhood, when he would spend afternoons watching his father tinker with cars. “My dad was an aircraft mechanic, so it was second nature for me to take things apart and put them back together. I actually spent more time breaking my bicycle down than riding it.”

Photo by Will Crooks

Over the years, Pike graduated to cars and even started a small shop in his parent’s garage, offering oil changes and window tinting. After high school, Pike got a full-time job at Automotive Accents, where he performed introductory accessory work.

He purchased the company in 2005 but struggled to turn a profit when customers began buying their accessories from online retailers. That’s when Pike started to shift his company’s focus to restoration and customization services instead.

“I knew that we had to take things in a different direction to survive. But I couldn’t bring myself to commit,” Pike said. “My mom was the one who actually convinced me to get into customs. She knew it was going to be an industry, because she watched car shows on television. Luckily, I listened to her and things worked out.”

In 2007, Pike decided to relocate the business from North Pleasantburg Drive to a 30,000-square-foot building on Rutherford Road to accommodate growth. Now it houses hundreds of cars on a yearly basis, according to Pike.

But Pike doesn’t run the company alone. His wife, Stephanie, helps out and handles the finances. The two met while working on a project to customize and give away a truck for charity when she was with Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Stephanie was in the motor sports industry for years and knows everybody, which helps us in the corporate world,” Pike said. “She’s definitely the brains of the operation.”

Photo by Will Crooks

The duo’s ability to leverage their skills and grow the company has led to numerous corporate partnerships over the years. In 2014, for instance, they partnered with Shell Oil to promote Quaker State, Pennzoil, and Rotella.

As a brand ambassador, Tommy Pike Customs not only receives free products on a monthly basis but also gets to participate in special projects. Last year, for instance, Pike and his team partnered with Quaker State to customize a Dodge RAM 1500 for Jimmy Houston, who was celebrating his 50th anniversary as a professional angler.

“Most of these big companies think we don’t have running water or working roads here in South Carolina,” Pike said. “But we’re relevant to their business and really good at getting their product and message out there in front of people.”

Pike and his team attend 12 major events a year to showcase their work and demo Shell products. That includes the Motor Trend South Carolina International Auto Show, NHRA 4-Wide Nationals, Pennzoil AutoFair, Coca Cola 600, Quaker State 400, and more.

“We don’t go to compete against other shops. We go to build relationships with our customers. That’s probably why we’ve been so successful over the years,” Pike said. “We listen to our customers and know what they want.”

But the job hasn’t come without challenges, including a shortage of mechanics and technicians. The New York Times reported earlier this year that there will be over 25,000 unfilled positions in the next five years. Now Pike is working to connect with students at local high schools and community colleges to prepare for the shortage.

“I don’t want to see the industry crash and burn. But it’s going to happen if we don’t plan ahead and take action,” Pike said. “I’m talking with Greenville Tech and several other schools to figure out ways to get students out of the classroom. Flipping through a book is helpful, but it’s not going to keep students interested.”

Photo by Will Crooks

Since 2015, Pike has also partnered with Quaker State to serve as a mentor and judge for the Best in Class Challenge. The six-week automotive training competition requires students from five high schools across the country to restore and customize a fourth-generation Ford Mustang. The winning school is given the opportunity to sell their vehicle at the Barrett-Jackson auction in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Pike said auction proceeds are donated to the winning school’s automotive training program. Last year, students from Atlanta’s Jordan Vocational High School sold their car for $50,000 before it was donated to a second auction in Connecticut. It was then sold for $65,000 and donated back to another auction. Now Pike and the students will travel to Arizona in January to auction the car off for a third time.

“Their eagerness to get under the hood and get their hands dirty reminds me a lot of myself at their age,” Pike said. “I have to give so much credit to the instructors of these programs. The guidance, encouragement, and training they provide often go unnoticed or unrecognized. The next generation of enthusiasts are dependent on these programs, and it has been a privilege to partner with them and mentor these students.”

As for the future, Pike plans to focus on his company’s newest initiative to provide custom vehicles for law enforcement agencies and veterans.

The initiative began last month when Pike and his team unveiled a new recruitment vehicle for the Greenville Police Department at the TD Center. The vehicle, a Ford-F150, will be used to recruit officers and promote the department at community events, parades, and other happenings around the city, according to Chief Ken Miller.

“It doesn’t matter what your political views are,” Pike said. “Our police and military haven’t been treated well lately. If there’s something we can do for them, we’re going to do it. They need all the support they can get right now.”

ProTrans announces new 230,000-square-foot facility in Spartanburg County

ProTrans has announced its new Spartanburg County facility.

Indiana-based ProTrans, a third-party logistics provider, announced Wednesday, Dec. 6, the opening of a new 230,000-square-foot facility in Spartanburg County.

The facility sits on 20 acres at 410 Global Commerce Drive at GSP International Logistics Park beside the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Inland Port near Greer.

Developed by Illinois-based CenterPoint Properties, the ProTrans building includes 6,600 square feet of office space, a 2,900-square-foot warehouse office in the center of the building, and a driver check-in.

It will have 60-foot speed bays, 88 dock doors, two drive-in doors, 137 trailer positions, and 80 parking spaces for customers and employees, according to the developer.

The company said the facility, developed by CenterPoint Properties, will help support its growing customer base. Photo courtesy of ProTrans.

“ProTrans is proud to partner with CenterPoint Properties in the Greer market,” said Shawn Masters, chief commerce officer for ProTrans, in a statement. “While we have had a presence for years in Greer, our new facility will bring significant efficiencies to support our growing customer base and service offerings. Pro Trans is cementing our roots in the area for years to come.”

Founded in 1993, ProTrans has 24 facilities located throughout the country that serve its customers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The company’s Spartanburg County facility is beside BMW Manufacturing Co.’s export operation next to the inland port that houses its Semi-Knocked Down and Completely-Knocked Down operation.

“We are delighted to participate with ProTrans and expand our portfolio of East Coast properties,” said Tony Beck, senior vice president of development at CenterPoint Properties. “This development continues our momentum in the park, with the recent expansion of BMW and this new facility. We are hopeful this new location will be a catalyst for new business and an expansion on ProTrans’ existing customer base in this market.”

Financial details and job creation numbers associated with the project were not disclosed.

A ProTrans spokeswoman said the company has already hired about 20 employees for the facility and encouraged jobseekers to visit ProTrans’ careers page online.

Former Iron Yard leaders to launch new coding school in Greenville

Photo provided.

Four months after The Iron Yard announced its decision to close, two of the company’s former executives, including founder and CEO Peter Barth, plan to open a new coding school in downtown Greenville.

The school, also known as Carolina Code School, will offer a 12-week full-time web development immersive course to prepare college students and working professionals for a career in software development – no coding experience required.

The course, which cost $13,999, will be offered six times a year and accommodate up to 20 students per cohort. Those accepted into the course will study the basics of front-end and back-end web development for eight weeks and then focus on a programming language (Java, JavaScript, Ruby, etc.) of their choice.

“Our goal is to prepare students with the skills they need for careers in software development,” said Barth. “We’re not only going to teach them the basics of coding. We’re going to make sure they can actually apply what they’ve learned outside of the classroom.”

Barth added that students who complete the course will have the opportunity to enter a career support program, which provides four additional weeks of curriculum along with support throughout the career search process. Financing will be available.

Carolina Code School plans to open its doors and start training students in early 2018, according to Barth. The course will be held at the NEXT Innovation Center at 411 University Ridge. An online application will be available at carolinacodeschool.org once the school receives licensing from the state.

The school is the first of several economic development programs organized by Build Carolina, a Greenville-based nonprofit “dedicated to building talent initiatives to support innovative companies across the Carolinas.”

Barth launched the nonprofit earlier this year and currently serves on the board of directors alongside Eric Dodd, former chief marketing officer at The Iron Yard, and John Moore, CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s NEXT program. Leila King, former director of communications at The Iron Yard, has been hired to serve as executive director.

“We’re going to launch several things over the next year or so. But our current focus is the coding school,” Barth said. “When we announced the closing of The Iron Yard, there wasn’t a single coding school in the area that could provide the same caliber of education. I knew we had to do something to fill that gap.”

Barth launched The Iron Yard, a Greenville-based technology education company, as a startup accelerator out of the NEXT Innovation Center in 2012. But it quickly became one of the nation’s largest coding schools, once boasting between 20 and 25 campuses.

In July, the company announced it would cease operations and permanently close by the end of the year. The Iron Yard offered little explanation in a blog post but said the board decided to shut down after “considering the current environment.”

While Barth couldn’t speak about the board’s decision to close The Iron Yard, he suggested the company was strained by the cost of operating numerous campuses across the country while promoting a new model of education.

From left to right: Peter Barth, Lelia King, and John Moore. Photo by Will Crooks.

Apollo Education Group, the parent company behind the University of Phoenix, acquired a 62 percent interest of The Iron Yard in 2015 for $15.9 million.

In recent years, the company has faced financial issues due to declining enrollment and lawsuits. In the first quarter of 2017, for instance, Apollo reported a net revenue of $484.5 million, compared with $586 million in the first quarter of 2016.

Vistria Group, a Chicago-based private equity firm, purchased Apollo in February for more than $1.1 billion. It wasn’t long after the acquisition that The Iron Yard announced the closure of its operations in Columbia, S.C.; Salt Lake City; Cincinnati; Minneapolis; and San Antonio. The consolidation left the company with only 15 campuses across the country, including in Greenville and Charlotte, N.C.

But where The Iron Yard failed, Carolina Code School will excel, King said.

“The Iron Yard educated thousands of students over the years. But it also expanded into other markets,” she said. “We have no intention of using an outside investor for Carolina Code School. And we don’t plan to expand beyond the Upstate. Our sole focus is closing the  local talent gap before anything else.”

King said operating under a nonprofit allows the school to partner with local colleges and universities to ensure that students who graduate from the 12-week course can earn academic credit toward degree or professional certification programs.

The Iron Yard, however, argued that software developers didn’t need a college degree to land a job. But when the company closed up shop earlier this year, Barth realized that colleges and universities across the country are teaming up with coding schools or launching their own accelerated coding workshops.

For instance, Bellevue College in Washington partnered with Coding Dojo earlier this year to offer a part-time coding course for students. And Lynn University in South Florida offers nine academic credits to graduate students who successfully complete and graduate from Wyncode Academy’s web development immersive course.

Carolina Code School is currently partnering with Greenville Technical College to offer academic credits to students who graduate from the 12-week coding course. It’s also currently working to partner with Furman University.

“It takes the commitment of the entire community and innovative opportunities like this partnership to build a talented workforce and to position the Upstate for success,” said Dr. Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College. “We are pleased to partner with Carolina Code School, which will offer a much-needed pathway to employment in software development and engineering and serve as a key part of the economic growth of our region.”

In addition to a coding program, Build Carolina has partnered with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s NEXT program to launch several other economic development initiatives, including an apprenticeship program and innovation fellowship.

“We have great momentum when it comes to strengthening our entrepreneurial ecosystem, but our work is far from over. We still have a huge gap when it comes to developing talent, particularly technical talent.” said John Moore, CEO of NEXT. “That’s why we’re thrilled to partner with Build Carolina. These talent initiatives will fill that critical gap and support our early stage ventures as well as existing entrepreneurs, industry partners and our major companies.”

For more information, visit buildcarolina.org.

Wu’s Cajun Sea Food opens in former Green Room space

Wu's Cajun Sea Food menu combines Cajun and Asian flavors in dishes such as Cajun Fried Crab Rolls and Gumbo Ramen | photo by Ariel Turner

Wu’s Cajun Sea Food, the latest concept from Bottle Cap Group, opened its doors this week in the former Green Room Restaurant and Bar at 116 N. Main St., Greenville.

The opening comes just after the Charlotte, N.C.-based restaurant group, which also owns SIP Whisky and Wine Bar and Ink N Ivy in downtown Greenville, closed Diner 24 (Nov. 13) and Brazwells Premium Pub (Oct. 16).

Wu’s Cajun Sea Food is an Asian-Cajun concept the group says has been successful in Charlotte, under the helm of executive chef Troy Gagliardo. Many of the new menu items being added to other Bottle Cap Group restaurants are inspired by the 2,000-plus recipes Gagliardo developed over the course of the chef’s 10 years on “Troy’s Everyday Eats,” a Charlotte TV show that airs every Tuesday morning.

The Greenville Wu’s has an occupancy of 95 and will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, with Sunday brunch service being added eventually.

The menu, which will be rolled out in Charlotte as well, includes a seafood boil customizable with various Asian or Cajun seasonings and appetizer “Nibbles” with Kung Pao Cauliflower (fried, tossed with scallions, sesame, Fresno chili), Boudin Gator Balls (dirty rice, braised gator, tasso ham gravy), BBQ Shrimp (skillet-seared, lemon butter, beer, Worcestershire, scallion, grilled bread), and Wu’s Street Corn (miso mayo, togarashi, Parmesan, cilantro, lime).

“Noodles” offerings range from chicken curry to Gumbo Ramen; “Bowls & Rolls” include poke, hot rice, and a Cajun Fried Crab Roll (Cajun seasoning, money sauce, spicy mayo, green onion, goat cheese, cilantro, Fresno chili); and “Hands,” or sandwiches, showcase pork belly, catfish, and a Jerk Calamari Po’Boy. The restaurant also offers an assortment of salads.

The cocktails showcase a variety of fusion flavors as well, mixing sake, lemongrass, and coconut flavors with more traditional New Orleans beverages.

Hours of operation are Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight.

Kuka Juice opens in the Village of West Greenville

Kuka Juice's new location is three times the size of its former space | photo by Ariel Turner

Kuka Juice opened its new location at 580 Perry Ave. on Dec. 4 after months of construction delays. The original 101 Falls Park Drive location closed mid-August in preparation for opening the Village of West Greenville store.

The 1,250-square-foot space, which is nearly three times the size of the former location, will allow Kuka Juice to expand its menu to include more salads and smoothies, as well as bring its food production on-site rather than using an offsite commercial kitchen. Currently, juices and a few small, pre-prepped items are available in the retail store, and the full, new menu will be available as soon as they pass a DHEC inspection and repair some plumbing, according to co-owner Samantha Shaw.

Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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