Columns article posted by SC Press Association on May 2nd, 2016
By Phil Noble
The title of this column is not a wish or an aspiration – it’s a statement of fact.
For years now, economic development people and politicians have talked about building the technology sector like it was the Holy Grail, and the Holy Land was Silicon Valley. With the help of some clever marketers who came up with cute names – there is now a Silicon Something sprouting up almost everywhere you look – Silicon Alley (New York City), Silicon Shore (Santa Barbara), Silicon Hills (Austin), Silicon Mountain (Denver), Silicon Forrest (Portland), etc.
And it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon – there is a Silicon Glenn (Scotland), Silicon Fjord (Finland), Silicon Oasis (Dubai), Silicon Beach (Australia), Silicon Dock (Northern Ireland), Silicon Cape (South Africa), etc.
If you search in Wikipedia, you will find that they list Silicon Something in 28 U.S. cities and regions and 61 globally – and there are probably twice this number that haven’t yet got on to Wikipedia’s list. My favorite was Silicon Bayou in Louisiana; I’m not sure how they deal with the alligators, but I guess that’s a different story.
All of which brings us to our own Silicon Harbor – i.e. Charleston.
As in many communities, back in the late 1990’s, some smart folks in Charleston figured out ‘this internet thing is going to be a big deal.’ Soon some city officials and business leaders began to coalesce around the idea of the need ‘to do something’ to encourage tech growth. Following a familiar pattern of other similar ventures (see the 100 or so initiatives above), what became known as the Charleston Silicon Harbor and its related Silicon Corridor (there’s that name again) were born.
In time the initiative grew to house and manage two ‘incubators’ (and a third is in the works) as places to house small companies (often one or two people) who could share space, share cost and most importantly share ideas. Since 2009, there have been 76 startup companies that have graduated from the incubator.
Today, over 200 tech companies call Charleston home.
The statistics are dazzling: there are 243 tech companies in Charleston; Charleston now has a higher percent of its work force in tech businesses than such tech-Meccas as Austin and Raleigh; our tech economy is growing 26% faster than the national average – on par with Silicon Valley (the original one); over 11,000 people work in the tech sector; we are in the top 10 fastest-growing software development regions in U.S. … and on and on it goes.
And one could write a book (and someone should) about the individual innovative tech companies that have flourished in the region. Here are just a few:
- Blackbaud, developer of software and services for nonprofits, moved to Charleston from New York 26 years ago. In 2004, the company raised $64.7 million at its IPO and now has over 3,000 employees.
- Benefitfocus was also founded in 2000 to simplify enrollment for benefits at large companies. The company raised $70.6 million from its IPO in 2013 and now has a 40-acre campus in Charleston housing 750 employees.
- Automated Trading Desk was started in 1988 as a pioneer in high frequency stock trading. In 2007 ATD was sold to Citigroup for $680 million and at the time was handling 6% of all the trades on the NASDQ stock exchange and had 115 employees.
- BoomTown is a real estate software company and since opening in 2006, Boomtown has surpassed $8 million in revenue and now employs nearly 100 people.
- PeopleMatter, is a human resources software developer for the service industry. Incubated in the Digital Corridor, it has raised over $47 million and its products are in over 33,000 restaurants.
- Blue Acorn designs, builds, markets and optimizes e-commerce sites for brands and other online retailers.Started in 2008, it now has over 80 employees and $8 million in revenues.
- PhishLabs, a cyber security firm also incubated in the Digital Corridor, has completed $1.2 million Series A round of venture financing and now has nearly 50 employees.
- BiblioBoard started with only four people and is now the world’s first digital global publishing platform. Today, several hundred publishers use their technology as do thousands of libraries. The company was started by Mitchell Davis who had previously cofounded BookSurge which was sold to Amazon.
There are lots of reasons why this is happening. Two of the biggest reasons are that Charleston is a great place to live and attracts young smart people who want to live here and the South Carolina Research Authority’s S.C. Launch program has provided millions in startup and expansion capital to entrepreneurs with an idea.
The bottom line on all this is that Charleston’s tech community really is truly exploding. It is creating great jobs for smart people who are building great companies that are having national and even global impact.
Pay attention folks, something big and real and important is happening in Charleston – right now.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. firstname.lastname@example.org
Columns article posted by SC Press Association on April 29th, 2016
By Cathy Elliott
Q: How do you stop a bull from charging?
A: Take away his credit card.
I took a little departure from reality recently and dreamed I was a rancher – for our purposes here let’s just say my fantasy name was Joe Gibbs – and I had four bulls in my stable. They were all motivated and feisty and showed a lot of enthusiasm for their jobs, so I gave them tough names: Carl, Matt, Kyle, and Denny. (OK, I gave three of them tough names. Sorry, Denny.)
I don’t know much about bulls, but I do know they’re willful animals, and that they’re strong and stubborn and enjoy spending time with cows, but they’re not all that crazy about spending time with each other. In a fair fight where they are evenly matched and equally determined, they are oblivious to humans, dogs, bullwhips, chucked rocks, and crew chief instructions. They fight to win.
If something gets in their way, bulls look for an opening and then bulldoze their way through it.
In the real world there is a clear (to me, anyway) NASCAR analogy here, and Joe Gibbs Racing is the perfect example. The team includes the reigning champion (Kyle Busch); a former champion (Matt Kenseth); and two guys who haven’t quite made it to the champion’s table yet, but they’ve gotten mighty close and it’s only a matter of time (Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin).
Just to make things a little more interesting, Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. have entered into a “technical alliance” with JGR and Toyota, which means the two teams are running chassis and engines that are basically identical, making them kind of like first cousins.
JGR spends a lot of time talking about “racing for the team,” and it is definitely a strategy that is working for them this season. Busch, Hamlin, Edwards, Kenseth and Truex were thick as thieves during the season-opening Daytona 500, drafting together almost exclusively and serving up a last-lap thriller that saw Hamlin pass Kenseth, and then squeak by Truex to hit racing’s most coveted bulls-eye in the closest finish in Daytona history.
According to Len McIrvin, a bull breeder based in Washington State, the frenzy of that race was no fluke. “If you keep bulls separated during the off season, they spend more time fighting when you finally put them together,” he says. “An older bull especially has more trouble. If he gets whipped, he can’t handle it psychologically and he’ll go off and sulk, and not do you any good.”
Kyle Busch is 30, Denny Hamlin is 35, Carl Edwards is 36 and Matt Kenseth is 44. Hamlin, Busch and Edwards have all won races this season. I’m not pointing a finger, just taking the bull by the horns and pointing something out. At age 44 Kenseth certainly isn’t old, but he is definitely old-school, the kind of guy who gets up on the wheel, gives as good as he gets on the racetrack, and isn’t afraid to tell you what he thinks. Racing needs guys like that, and fans love them, but unfortunately they don’t win a lot of races in modern-era NASCAR.
Unpredictability in sports is a very good thing. When you throw a herd of determined drivers into a gussied-up bullring and let them have at it, anything can happen, and usually does, because you cannot change a competitor’s nature anymore than you can change the color of the sky.
While being interviewed for the May 1 race at Talladega Superspeedway, Edwards said, “We’ve got a really good group that understands what teamwork is.” Those are nice, politically correct words, but understanding and implementing are two different things. When presented with the opportunity to “nudge” the leader up the track (and out of his way) at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, Edwards seized the chance, and the win, earning both the checkered flag and the bullion.
The main problem there was the fact that the guy he knocked aside was Kyle Busch, who rarely takes such things well. “That’s racing, I guess,” Busch said, although he was likely thinking it was more like something that begins with the word “bull” as he stalked off after the race.
Edwards once again celebrated by managing to perform his trademark backflip without landing on his head. I have begun covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers when this happens because it’s terrifying, like a train wreck, or an Adam Sandler movie. I’m hoping Coach Gibbs will “strongly recommend” that Edwards, a father of two, discontinue this practice in the near future.
Even a bull recognizes a cash cow when he sees one.
Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at email@example.com.
News article posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on April 28th, 2016
By Kyle Vuille
April 27, 2016
Customers’ personal coffee mugs fill the walls near the door, and a young boy tips at his toes anxiously awaiting the brownie across the counter at The Local Buzz, a coffee shop that owner Stephanie Bridgers calls a community cafe.
By Bridgers’ design, it’s a safe place, tucked into the corner of a strip shopping center at South Shandon Street and Rosewood Drive across from the Rosewood Dairy Bar in Columbia.
It’s by design because two of Bridgers’ four children have autism, and Bridgers says she understands what it’s like to sense you’re being judged, even if only slightly.
By Cathy Elliott
The only thing I like better than the fact that Tony Stewart has returned to fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) competition is the fact that Tony Stewart has returned, and opened his mouth. Generally, when this occurs, we’re in for a good show, and this time was no different.
Since injuring his back in an ATV accident during the off-season, Stewart has been participating in NASCAR events the way the rest of do: watching. If you personally think that sounds like a dream come true, let’s try a new perspective, enter the world of extreme fantasy for a moment, and imagine the following things happen.
First, you love your job so much that you would literally rather work than eat, sleep, listen to the Purple Rain album for 24 hours straight (RIP, Prince) or go on an all-expense-paid, month-long vacation to the destination of your choice.
Second, you are inarguably one of the very best in the world at your job, but are deprived of the ability to perform it and are relegated to the sidelines, armchair crew-chiefing, grinding your teeth, watching talented — but not brilliant — drivers warm your seat, and saying a lot of stuff your mother definitely would not approve of.
Third, your physical inability to do your job has obviously affected your productivity, making it exponentially more difficult for you to be named Employee of the Year in 2016.
For the past four months, Tony Stewart’s life has been something like that.
But over the past couple of weeks, things have been looking up. In an ongoing effort to reinforce the idea that NASCAR is not, in fact, an implacable sledgehammer of frontier justice, but rather a benevolent arbiter of fairness and understanding, Stewart was granted a waiver making him eligible to qualify for the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
All he basically needs to do is win a race and accumulate enough points to climb his way into the top 30 in driver standings. Not easy, but not impossible, either. Kyle Busch, remember, was in a similar situation last season and managed to come back and win the whole enchilada. NASCAR deserves kudos for this particular decision, which now seems to have morphed into an actual policy.
“Smoke” talked with the media during the early part of his comeback week, and when asked for his opinion about some of the 2016 season’s goings-on, he responded “forthrightly,” because that’s just what he does.
You’ve probably heard about this, but it has become somewhat of a regular occurrence on for teams to choose not to tighten every one of the five lug nuts on a competition tire during pit stops. NASCAR used to have officials in the pit boxes to make sure things that needed tightening actually got tightened, but they have done away with that policy this year.
It takes less time to tighten three lug nuts than to tighten five; even I can do that math. Fewer tightening means fewer seconds spent in the pits, which is good, but it can also mean loose wheels, which is the opposite of good, especially during a high-speed stock car race.
“I’m beyond mad; I’m P.O.’d at NASCAR about it,” Stewart said. “For all the work and … all the new stuff we have to do to superspeedway cars and all these other things they want us to do for safety, we can’t even make sure we put five lug nuts on the wheel. This is not a game you play with safety and that’s exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.
“When you preach about safety, why would you sit there and have cars that are running 200 mph at the end of the straightaway that don’t have all the lug nuts on the wheel that should be on it? If they want to design a new hub that has three lug nuts or one lug nut, that’s fine. But make sure it’s safe and make sure it’s the same for everybody. We shouldn’t be playing games with safety to win races,” he continued.
My reaction? Well, duh.
NASCAR’s reaction? A $35,000 fine levied against Stewart for violating the sanctioning body’s new “behavioral policy.” Yep, the hammer came down … but this time, perhaps it did not have the desired effect.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a drivers’ council, a group of competitors that meets with NASCAR periodically to discuss this and that. I like to envision these interactions as being like cordial status meetings with your boss, where you make suggestions and she pretends to think they’re good ones, and then everyone high fives and goes on with their day, no harm, no foul.
In this situation, however, the drivers’ council decided to get proactive, and released this statement, via Denny Hamlin.
“We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine.”
Good for them. A group of nails probably can’t stand for very long against a hammer, but it will take a whole lot more effort to beat them down.
Maybe “Smoke” will be adding another cool nickname to his resume: SPIKE.
Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at email@example.com.
By Karl Smith
Note: Periodically, in this space we have guest columnists who bring their own perspective to important issues in South Carolina. Phil Noble will be back next week.
The S.C. Legislature is in a battle over if we are going to make any real progress in fixing our infrastructure in our state. There is a wider debate on how to become truly prosperous with opportunity for all.
The “Conservative Solution” is to cut spending, taxes, regulations, and government and not raise the minimum wage. Get government out of the way and personal responsibility and the free market will create prosperity for all. Some seem to believe that government is bad and cannot do anything right.
The “Liberal Solution” is to invest in infrastructure, health, education, public safety, research, clean energy, and community development, and to raise the minimum wage. These folks believe it takes proactive government to create the environment for the people and business to thrive.
A while back, both parties voted to support our basic investments. Today, the GOP is about cutting everything. To many voters, the debate may just sound like he-said she-said.
A few basic macroeconomic and social behavioral principles show how our economy works and makes it easy to understand the difference between good and bad economic policies.
The size of the economy is related to how fast money cycles through the economy. If we want to grow the economy, we just have to do more of what speeds up and less of what slows money in the economy.
There are a couple of related social behavioral principles that everybody understands. One is that if we do not have much money and we get some more, we tend to spend it quickly. We have immediate needs! On the other hand, if we have a lot of money, we tend to become risk averse as we do not want to lose our money and we have few immediate needs so we purchase and invest slowly.
Trickle-down economics has never worked. People and businesses with money are risk averse. Businesses execute business plans when expected to be successful which is when there are customers with money. In a 70% consumer based economy, we-the-people are the job creators by spending money which then triggers business spending, hiring and investment.
Obviously, we-the-people benefit from our basic investments, but businesses also need these basic investments to exist and especially thrive. Neither businesses nor the people can make these investments individually but we pay for these critical investments through our local, state, and federal taxes. This is us investing in ourselves, our communities, our state and our nation.
The “Conservative Solution” is code for cutting our basic investments in our communities, South Carolina, and our country. What this really means is that you can have great health care, education and so on if you can afford it.
In the past, Democrats and many Republicans understood the importance of our basic investments. We built the interstate highway system after WWII when we were broke and it paid off huge for taxpayers for many years to come. Imagine what our state and country would be today if we had not invested in infrastructure, education, health, research, community safety and the like. We would be like Third World countries that have two-thirds of their populations in poverty.
We can cut our way to a Third World economy, but if we want to be the country we should expect to be in the 21st century, we must invest in ourselves. And Americans are great investments! Sure there are some takers from the poor to the rich, but mostly Americans are hardworking, creative and determined.
Cuts to our basic investments kill more tax revenue than they save. However, our basic investments ultimately pay for themselves by creating more tax revenues than cost. Even a little higher taxes to jump start the investments especially coming from the top of the economy, creates further opportunities for all including the rich. We all have a vested interest in a healthy economy. Our basic investments create opportunities in all our communities, from the poor to the rich, and from small to large businesses.
Without a strong commitment to our basic investments, our kids will truly be worse off than their parents.
Currently, there is a proposal to increase the gas tax by a modest 12 cents allowing us to fix S.C. roads over 10 years. This is only a few dollars per month for most of us and out of state drivers would also significantly contribute to rebuilding our roads. Many Republicans in the Legislature and the governor want to offset this with a S.C. income tax cut that will substantially benefit the wealthy while taking money out of the general fund. The result will be further program cuts in education, public safety and community development. The wealthy will generally not put tax cuts benefiting them back in the S.C. economy and what they do put back will be done slowly. This means less money spent and cycling through our economy thereby having a shrinking effect and killing more tax revenues.
Our basic investments create more customers with money, more tax revenues, and put free enterprise on steroids. We need to call on our Legislature and the governor to increase our investments in public education, infrastructure and our communities.
Karl Smith, father of son with Autism, Columbia small business owner, and political activist. firstname.lastname@example.org
News article posted by Carolina Reporter on April 25th, 2016
By Jamie Ussery
In the early morning of Oct. 4, 2015 as a relentless, steady rain fell outside, Eric Buff received a telephone call from his older sister.
Diana Woodward told him floodwaters had inundated her yard and were pouring into her garage on Columbia’s Timberlane Drive, a neighborhood of mostly ranch style houses near Gills Creek. He got a second call at 7 a.m.: Water was up to her knees. By that time, Buff was pumping water out of his basement on nearby Whispering Pines Circle.
Soon, his street was engulfed in 10 feet of water, but his home was undamaged. He opened his home to his neighbors and sister who escaped with nothing but the clothes on their back. They watched their houses go under water in the worst flooding disaster the city of Columbia has ever witnessed.
The morning after the flood, Buff lent a hand to a neighbor. He reali
zed that everything in their house – furniture, appliances, clothing – had to go, but they had the opportunity of saving the hardwood floors.
“From that moment on, my life was consumed in gutting homes,” he said.
Six months later, Buff worries that the future of the Gills Creek-area neighborhood is dim. Houses sit vacant and mold inside continues to creep. In a race against mold and rot, city and county officials say they are hard at work collecting necessary funds for the homes damaged by the floodwater.
The tragic disaster left many without water, power and a home. There were 19 weather-related fatalities in South Carolina. In the wake of the flood, 2,324 households in Richland County received temporary housing assistance, because the water damage was significant enough that they had to leave their homes.
Officials with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said there are currently 383 individuals statewide still receiving rental assistance with 70 in Richland County.
Buff, who sells merchandise at USC football games, and other volunteers gutted 17 homes in the neighborhood in 10 days. Buff said he did not leave the neighborhood for nine days because he was working so hard.
His main goal was to get everything out of the houses and board up windows and door to keep the house from molding. This was the best way to salvage the house to either be repaired or bought out, he said.
Buff, who continues volunteering through the St. Bernard Project, remains frustrated because some of the residents did not obtain proper permits and had to stop the work they were doing. Some left shortly after, never completing the process they started, and Buff said this makes the neighborhood look worse.
In order to rebuild, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requires each house in the flood zone to be lifted two feet above the 100-year floodplain. The floodplain level is different for every area.
Raising a home could cost anywhere from $15-$18 per square foot, said Earl McLeod, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. That figure could be beyond the budgets of many residents of Timberlane Drive and surrounding streets. Buff believes his neighbors do not have the necessary means to meet these requirements.
FEMA gives an extra $30,000 to those who had flood insurance to raise their home and have committed to rebuilding.
Timberlane Drive has an average elevation of 136 feet above sea level. This street is in the floodway and floodplain; the 100-year level is 142.7 feet above sea level. To rebuild and comply with FEMA, a home must sit two feet above that mark, which would mean raising the average home of Timberlane Drive eight feet.
Without rebuilding, the houses must be bought out, and Buff said that doesn’t seem promising. “(I have) no trust in what they say about a buyout,” Buff said. “I don’t think they’re going to do it.”
Ali Khan, city floodplain manager, said the city and county are collecting data to determine which houses they can purchase and which homeowners are looking for a buyout.
The city and county are expecting to receive federal hazard mitigation money that will be used to perform these buyouts. The deadline for applying is this October.
Khan said that people should start seeing progress within the next few months.
Andrea Bolling, Richland County floodplain manager, said the county is pursuing all available federal funding opportunities and is hopeful the county will be awarded grant funding in order to continue with the recovery process.
The state estimates the total funding it will receive under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is $36 million, with $9 million currently projected for housing acquisition projects. Richland County is developing grant applications in order to pursue the HMGP funding.
The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program helps communities, which have been declared by the president as a major disaster.
Hazard mitigation is the “actions taken to eliminate long term risks to people and property from natural hazards,” according to FEMA.
Looking forward, Buff only sees property values plummeting and a neighborhood in decline.
The S.C. Emergency Management Division is aware “the recovery process is not over and voluntary agencies and case managers remain active in the state today,” the agency said in a statement. Bolling said the likely scenario for homes damaged in the flood like Timberlane Drive, that are so close to the creek, is purchase and demolition. This is to help reduced future risk, she said.
Buff still worries that the city and county may not receive the necessary funding to complete this project, leaving the homes sitting vacant.
“Time will tell, but I don’t feel so confident that it will happen,” Buff said.
View further coverage of the six month anniversary of October’s historic flood here:
News article posted by Carolina Reporter on April 22nd, 2016
Avengers collide in a brawl between friends in “Captain America: Civil War.” Does “Civil War” live up to expectations or do the Russo brothers fall under the weight off to many characters and fan expectations?
By Andrew Martin
“Captain America: Civil War” is the second movie this year to pit two superheroes against each other but the first to do so in a way that’s cohesive and enjoyable.
The movie manages to raise serious questions about the human cost of mass destruction in the wake of super-powered battles, while acknowledging that on-screen fights can still be fun. “Civil War” is the best of both worlds, able to simultaneously revel in amazing fights among some of comic’s most recognizable characters and challenge what it means to be a hero.
Disney and Marvel have carefully constructed a universe that has built up the friendship and team dynamic of the Avengers, so to see the team split down the middle has an actual emotional impact. Early in the movie, the Avengers are sent on a mission that unintentionally ends with civilian deaths.
As a result, the Sokovia Accords (named after the country where the final fight in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” took place) are introduced that would require superheroes to subject themselves to government regulations. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sides with the government while Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) wants superheroes to remain independent. The remaining members align themselves with either Iron Man or Captain America.
The teams are set, the conflict is important and the stakes are high for both teams. Let the battle begin.
United we stand…
“Civil War” avoids the problems and inconsistencies of “Age of Ultron.” Directors Anthony and Joe Russo inject humor and relief into a movie with serious implications while avoiding the annoyingly frequent quips and one-liners that plagued “Age of Ultron.” The Russo brothers prove again that they can elevate the fantastical nature of comic books in a way that makes them realistic and believable.
That’s the difference between “Civil War” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Both movies question what it means to be a hero and who is responsible for the destruction of cities and civilian deaths, but “Dawn of Justice” took itself so seriously that it wasn’t fun to watch.
Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely adapted Marvel’s Civil War comic to seamlessly fit into the already established cinematic universe. Everything that has happened so far, all the disastrous and deadly incidents, fit together like puzzle pieces that lead to the conflict between the Avengers. There have been changes, but the story still reflects the tone and importance of the comic.
When the Avengers finally duke it out, the fight scenes are incredible and lengthy. In particular, the airport fight scene, shown in the trailers, is a visceral display of both power and restraint. The characters are fighting to win, but they are stills friends treading the thin line of going too far. The choreography is fantastic and brutal, despite some hard-to-follow shaky cam, thanks to the cinematography of Trent Opaloch.
…Divided we fall
All characters get their time to shine, some more than others. Stark remains the comedic relief and plays a large role in the film opposite Rogers. But Rogers, despite the large cast, is still the focus. Rogers and his friend Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) are central to the conflict that unfolds, cementing Captain America at the center of his own movie. It is, after all, a Captain America movie.
Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Winter Soldier all get ample screen time. However, with such a large cast, the movie is forced to juggle the amount of time each character gets, leaving characters like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) on the sidelines. They have a few key moments but feel more like secondary characters on the sidelines.
Then there are the two newcomers. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as Black Panther joins the conflict, siding with Iron Man, after a close, personal loss. Black Panther’s action scenes are amazing, making him easily one of many highlights of the film. His appearance in the movie will heighten fan’s excitement for the 2018 Black Panther movie.
Spider-Man (Tom Holland) makes his debut appearance in the Marvel cinematic universe. Spider-Man doesn’t show up until over halfway through the movie, but he absolutely steals the show. He’s strong, agile, and funny and fits in with the existing Marvel characters in a way that makes him feel like he’s always been there. Holland’s Spider-Man is, by far, the best cinematic rendition of the character.
The Russo brothers took the fantastic “The Winter Soldier” and upped the ante with “Civil War.” The movie is bigger and more ambitious in every way. The movie pays off and is Marvel’s best entry into their cinematic universe to date. The Russo brothers understand that superhero movies can be both fun and seriousness with fantastic action scenes without brooding characters or succumbing to the need of self-importance.
The nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime breezes by, never feeling like the movie is dragging through unnecessary or boring scenes. There’s action and fun to be had without abandoning the important questions raised early on about the nature of superheroes.
Looking forward, “Infinity War” is in safe hands. The Russo brothers have shown they can tell a coherent story while juggling a large cast of characters. “Civil War” is everything comic book and the cinematic universe fans have come to expect from Marvel, and more.
The highly anticipated “Captain America: Civil War” fights its way into theaters May 6, 2016.
By Charnita Mack
Two feet of rain and the collapse of nearly three dozen dams continue to have an impact six months after the October floods. Gills Creek Watershed Association program coordinator hopes Midlands’ governments and ordinary citizens understand the continuing impact of the historic flooding.
As the community rebuilds, Erich Miarka said it is imperative “we get it right,” restoring green space along Gills Creek, the way it once was.
“If we just build back quickly, and we put people back in their homes, we are inevitably going to face the same thing again.”
Six months ago, the Gills Creek Watershed Association, an independent organization that works with other organizations and residents to educate them on the watershed, didn’t consider flooding a priority, he said.
The disaster has changed the way the association does its day-to-day business. Once mainly an educational tool for the Midlands, the organization now works closely with state and federal governmental agencies. Miarka meets with city and county officials on a regular basis to plan “disaster recovery projects.”
“Now, after the flood, I’d say 90 percent of what I’m working on is flood related,” he said.
Areas of the watershed took a hard hit when floodwaters rushed through the city, putting a bigger burden on top of the issues that the waters in the area are already facing.
The watershed covers over 47,000 acres of land and has a population of 140,000, according to the association’s website.
“Gills Creek Watershed is one of the most impaired urban watersheds in South Carolina. It has a lot of problems with water quality, it has low-dissolved oxygen, high levels of bacteria and mercury,” Miarka said.
One of the reasons that the area’s residents were affected so harshly was the fact that so many homes were built on floodplains.
A floodplain is an area of low-lying land that is subject to flooding. Every county, city and town in South Carolina is in a flood-prone area, but only 13 percent of land is in a floodplain area, according to a guide on floodplains (PDF) by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Now that the damage is done, Miarka and the association are working with the city to make sure that the rebuilding process is carried out with the environment in mind. He believes no one should rebuild in the floodplain.
Before city ordinances were put into place, homes could be built in floodplains without regulations, causing most of those homes to be damaged during the flood.
“(Those homes) were grandfathered in,” Miarka said.
The knowledge of floodplains is “nothing new” though, Miarka said. Cheaper land ultimately had its own role in homes being built in the areas.
“You have these developers that come in and want to make some money, and they don’t care if they sell a house or they develop an area in a floodplain because once they build it out and sell the house, it’s not their problem anymore,” he said.
Before, homebuyers weren’t clear on what they were getting themselves into, Miarka said. Now, homeowners who get mortgages through a bank are required to purchase flood insurance if they build in a designated floodplain area.
To make sure the cycle doesn’t repeat itself, floodplain buyouts have become an option. Miarka, residents and county representatives sit on Richland County’s Blue Ribbon Committee in order to advocate for those buyouts.
“We identified 63 or 67 residential structures that we’re going to buyout with the federal funding, give those people a pre-flood market rate for their homes, so even if their home was destroyed in the flood, we can give them 100% of the value,” he said.
If people agree to the buyouts, the city will turn the area back into green space, and building structures on that land will not be allowed anymore, Miarka said.
Miarka said this would “restore ecological functions” because floodplains are designed to catch floodwaters.
The length of time it will take to receive the money depends on which federal program a person applies.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Assistance money has already been allocated, but not released and that could take six to eight months, Miarka said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program has an October deadline, but it could still take up to 18 months before the money is given out, he said.
Now, City of Columbia ordinances require that anyone proposing to build in a floodplain be required to submit an application for building to the city engineer. The engineer is responsible for overseeing and making sure applicants have satisfied all permit requirements and verifying actual structure elevation.
The SCDNR encourages homeowners to build above the “Base Flood Elevation,” the predicted level at which the water will surface during a flood. The elevation level is determined based on the area in which a person lives.
Miarka says some people who would want to build back may have to elevate their homes almost 8 to 10 feet in order to meet requirements. Now, the ordinance states the base floor of a dwelling must be 2 feet above the 100-year flood level.
Besides elevating homes, the risk of dam failure is another factor home and business owners have to consider before returning.
“That is the biggest thing that we see, and it’s going to be ongoing for sometime,” said Robert Yanity, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
DHEC is responsible for monitoring and inspecting about 2,600 dams in the state and about 31 of them were breached during the flood, mostly in the Midlands, according to Yanity.
“We’re not in the dam repair business, but we provide the guidance and approve the plans for a dam owner to make the repairs, or if they decide to, they can permanently breach the dam,” Yanity said.
A plan has to be presented to DHEC before permanently breaching a dam, though.
The green space created from the buyouts would also give dam owners more leverage to permanently breach a dam if decide to go that route.
The dam failures came as a shock for Miarka, describing it as “eye-opening”, but he knew that flooding was going to occur whether they had been breached or not.
“We had 21 inches of rainfall around the watershed, so the flooding was already occurring before the dams failed,” he said, “The dam failures definitely exasperated the flooding issues.”
Because five dams have not been repaired, Miarka says the water running quickly downstream, possibly causing more flooding is an issue that they may have to deal with as the rainy season approaches.
While Miarka and his association don’t have the authority to tell the city and residents what to do, they’re invested in the rebuilding process.
“What we’ve been actively doing is in-stream debris removal,” he said, “The creek is still littered with tons of debris, we still have got industrial size dumpsters, shopping carts, mattresses, a “bajillion” plastic bags … people’s lives are literally scattered out there.”
Miarka estimates it will take many years to completely get the areas cleaned, especially because most of the clean up efforts rely heavily on volunteer efforts.
Walking the streets near Gills Creek, you won’t see many kids playing on swing sets or hear families laughing in backyards. Instead, the Columbia neighborhood is littered with vacant houses and debris six months after a mighty flood ravaged South Carolina.
“I think depending on what your experience was during the flood, you might not just want to move back in here anyway,” said Rachel Larratt, executive administrator of the South Beltline-Gills Creek Community Relief Foundation.
Since those early flood-ravaged days, Larratt has been lending a helping hand to those who escaped rushing waters in the early hours of Oct. 4, 2015. The foundation has helped nearly 1,600 in the Midlands alone.
“I’ve been down here working, running the foundation since the flood. I’m here everyday, it’s my way-more-than full-time job,” Larratt said.
Larratt owns BME.com, a body modification related website. She has had to step away from her responsibilities there to focus on Gills Creek recovery.
“I am lucky that my staff has all been with me for 10 to 15 plus years so they’re able to run things while I take a break to do this,” Larratt said.
A weekend of heavy rains, spawned by Hurricane Joaquin, and the collapse of 36 dams across the state sent a swirling wall of water and debris through Columbia and neighboring Richland County, the bulls-eye of the storm that devastated South Carolina from the Midlands to the Lowcountry. Nineteen people died in South Carolina as a result of the storm.
Larratt remembers the S.C. Department of Natural Resources coming through the Gills Creek neighborhoods by boat to check homes for bodies following the flood.
“That X just means the house was cleared. Luckily nobody died here,” Larratt said last week as she showed visitors the abandoned homes and the large letters still prominent on them.
Some Gills Creek residents lost their pets, belongings and entire homes.
There was speculation about whether or not higher structures and stilted homes would have prevented some of the destruction. Larratt, though, sees no point in pondering what might have been.
“If the whole point is to mitigate future hazards and loss, it just doesn’t make sense for these houses to even be here,” Larratt said.
The road to recovery remains long for this neighborhood. Gills Creek had more than 1,500 volunteers during the first three weeks after the flood.
“We definitely could not have done it without volunteers,” said Larratt of the community outreach.
Rita Shipman joined her congregation, part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, for several hours one Saturday assisting the Gills Creek area.
“We believe in service. That’s one of the big things about Mormons, we believe in helping people,” Shipman said.
Shipman now works with Larratt every day, helping at the foundation warehouse on Shop Road and verifying that recipients have proper paperwork from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal agency that provides immediate disaster support.
The foundation started out in tent cities and then moved into the warehouse as more donations poured in.
“Rachel and Rita are both superheroes, it would be impossible for me to describe what all they’ve done to try and help people,” said Sabrina Todd, whose split-level home on Glenhaven Road had upwards of seven feet of water in it at the height of the flood. The foundation provided Todd and her husband with a mattress and other household supplies to get them back on their feet.
“I’ve been to the warehouse… and I was there in the neighborhood when they were running the foundation out of tents using space heaters to stay warm,” Todd said.
The foundation gives flood victims things they need to start over or live normally. They provide cleaning supplies, clothes, mattresses, toilet paper and more.
“The people that would come by, this was their only hope for getting what they needed – you know what they really needed today. I’ve seen people crying because they got new towels,” Todd said.
Larratt continues to request donations from businesses for the foundation to keep up with the needs of flood victims.
“Rachel’s excellent about getting stuff from manufacturers. She’ll call a manufacturer and say ‘Can you send us some shampoo.’ Well, we got a whole palette of about 500 bottles of shampoo for our customers,” Shipman said.
Approximately 400 families have registered with the foundation. Registering with the South Beltline-Gills Creek Community Relief Foundation is simple, according to Todd. Larratt agrees.
“If you were flooded, you come and register with us,” said Larratt. “You just have to register one time and you can come as often as you’d like.”
If you have filed for FEMA paperwork and want to seek flood relief from the South Beltline-Gills Creek Community Relief Foundation check out more information at http://www.southbeltlineclean.com and https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/111730 or call (803) 381-0790.
The South Beltline-Gills Creek Community Relief Foundation is one of many non-profits that will benefit from Midlands Gives, a 24-hour online giving benefit sponsored by the Central Carolina Community Foundation. It will take place on May 3.
By John Del Bianco
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s ceremonial first pitch for the Columbia Fireflies struggled to reach home plate last Thursday. The big question is whether the new Spirit Communications Park and the ultimate redevelopment of Bull Street will have that same fate or be a home run.
Thursday marked the official start of activity in the Commons at BullStreet redevelopment, a project that has received mixed reviews in the general public and has been met with skepticism by some city officials.
According to Lennar Commercial, one of two companies hired to develop the area, more than 75,000 households and more than 175,000 people live within five miles of the redevelopment, including North Columbia residents who are some of the city’s most impoverished.
While the mayor sees the development as a positive for all residents, some like city council member Leona Plaugh and others worry that the money could have been better spent elsewhere, including upgrading the city’s water and sewer system.
Plaugh has recently supported the building of the stadium, saying that the decision to build it is now in the past and it is her job to help aid private investments instead of more public funding.
“I am anxious to do whatever I can to help make it as successful as it can possibly be. That includes the stadium. I think the caveat will be no additional subsidies,” Plaugh said.
The minor league ballpark, which now hosts the first professional team in Columbia since 2004, received $29 million in public funds and $6 million from Hardball Capital, the ownership group responsible for relocating the team from Savannah.
The baseball complex – which is now home to the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets – is just the start of what Benjamin
envisions as the eventual crown jewel of the Midlands.
“When I very first ran for mayor, one of our key goals was to finally get the Bull Street development moving,” Benjamin said. “It had stalled for several years for a number of different reasons. I recognized that it had the potential to be a huge catalyst of economic development for the city so we had to get it moving.”
Formerly the site of the state’s mental hospital, the 181-acre property off of Bull Street – just a few blocks north of the majestic state capitol – will also feature a 20-acre park, movie theater, office space buildings, restaurants, a hotel, and close to 500 apartments.
Close to 100 retail and restaurant storefronts are planned for development by master developer Bob Hughes, the architect of Greenville’s revival, and his partners, which includes Hughes Commercial Properties and Lennar Commercial, a Miami-base retail and residential company.
At least five of the hospital’s historic buildings will be incorporated as part of the redevelopment rather than demolished.
“It’s important to take this development into context,” Benjamin said. “This is the largest developable parcel of land in any downtown east of the Mississippi. As the crow flies, it’s four blocks from city hall and the entire Bull Street parcel is two and a half times the size of our entire central business district and it’s going to fundamentally change Columbia for the area.”
A sell-out crowd of more than 9,000 fans watched as the Fireflies defeated the Greenville Drive 4-1 on Thursday’s opening night. Attendance numbers dropped as the series continued. The Friday and Saturday night crowds fluctuated around 5,000 fans per game and Sunday’s attendance was 4,037.
Councilman Howard Duvall said he heard positive reviews from people about the ballpark, but negative reviews about the parking and fireworks displays. He called them “teething pains,” ones that need to be addressed to satisfy neighboring communities.
“We’ve got to find a way to quiet down and make it a visual display of fireworks rather than an audio display. The neighborhoods are disturbed at 10:30 at night or later and that is just not suitable in an urban situation,” Duvall said.
Mike Santoro, a Columbia resident and opening night attendee, thought the stadium was beautiful, but fans and all Columbians need to be patient about new developments like noise, traffic, and construction.
The mayor, who described himself as a “half-decent” Little League player, hailed baseball as America’s pastime He said that was why the return of the professional game to Columbia was important to him
“As mayor over the last several years, I’ve had a chance to observe in several communities the incredible economic development aspect that minor league baseball also brings to the table,” Benjamin said.
So why so big a redevelopment?
The mayor wants the “talent,” as he calls it, to remain in Columbia and just like any team recruits, he wants the Commons at BullStreet to woo innovating and energetic people to the Midlands.
“We have to remain competitive for the best and brightest talent that grows here in our schools and universities, but also make sure we are able to recruit and retain talent,” Benjamin said. “This is very much about creating an economic development engine, taxable property that helps support all the great amenities a city should provide.”
The mayor added that it may have been hard at first for Columbians to envision the plans for the ballpark property, which passed by a 4-3 margin in council. But with the construction of the park, he said he believes residents will see the vision he and members of City Council had in the planning stages.
“I expect in five years we’ll see a significant amount of development, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of development and it’s going to allure Columbians for generations,” Benjamin said.
Editor’s note: According to the site’s website, shopbullstreetsc.com, “BullStreet” in Commons at BullStreet is spelled without a space.
Columns article posted by SC Press Association on April 18th, 2016
By Phil Noble
Some states are known for things they produce in abundance. Idaho has potatoes, Maine has lobsters and South Carolina seems to have more than our fair share of politicians with loopy, if not downright embarrassing, ideas.
This is not really new for the Palmetto State as we have a long history of such loopy ideas – secession, printing our own currency, denying children an education based on their skin color, etc. – and these are just the things proposed in the last few years.
And now we are at it again.
Let me begin with a full disclosure. Best I know, I’ve never met state Senator Lee Bright of Spartanburg. Once or twice when I was visiting the Statehouse and sat in the Senate Gallery, I saw him walking around on the floor talking with folks. He looked like a perfectly nice guy. I looked him up and he’s in the transportation business, has a wife and two daughters, on several boards and a member of the Roebuck Baptist Church.
I’m sure that he is an honorable man who wants to do what is best for South Carolina, that he loves his family and that folks at his church will tell you he is a good Christian. Good for him on all counts.
And, he’s also the sponsor of the latest loopy idea that is a hot topic in virtually every newspaper and on every cable TV channel. Yes, it’s the ‘bathroom bill’ – legislation that says when it comes to certain gay and transgender people, that someone else (presumably a law enforcement person) needs to decide who goes into which bathroom.
Some variation of this legislation was first passed in North Carolina, it spread to Georgina and then South Carolina, and now it’s being pushed by legislators in Tennessee, Kansas and Minnesota as well.
A lead editorial in The New York Times this week summarizes the legislation this way: “The lunacy at the heart of this demand to police every public bathroom was captured by Leon Lott, the sheriff of Richland County in South Carolina, who told state lawmakers last week that the law would be unenforceable because his officers could not be in the business of inspecting people’s genitals.” Lott then added, “In the 41 years I’ve been in law enforcement in South Carolina, I have never heard of a transgender person attacking or otherwise bothering someone in a restroom.”
So there you have it.
But maybe Sen Bright has a point. Just because it has never been a problem doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act now to prevent a problem from developing in the future. It could happen.
Maybe we should start this – on a trial basis – with the S.C. State Senate. I’m sure that Sen. Bright would be willing to show some real leadership on this and would personally take responsibility to do ‘genital checks’ in the Statehouse bathrooms.
Now, there are lots of restrooms in the Statehouse and it’s open for long hours so Sen. Bright is going to have to get some help. We could put him in charge of organizing (deputizing) enough folks to keep all the restrooms covered during the hours that the Statehouse is open. Maybe he could get the co-sponsors of the bill (if he has any) to take a shift.
Once he gets all the men’s rooms covered, he’ll have to move on to the women’s restrooms. Now, he’s got a problem as there are only two women in the Senate and I don’t think either one of them will likely go along with this.
So now things will begin to really get tricky. Since Sen. Bright won’t be able to find enough genital checkers to handle things (no pun intended) then he’ll have to start closing restrooms as it really wouldn’t be safe to have a public restroom open and not have adequate checks.
Then the lines will start to form … and very long lines would soon follow with lots of people holding their legs together … well, you get the picture.
And what about training? We can’t have unqualified genital checkers looking in everyone’s underwear – we need fully qualified, trained and approved checkers. (They should probably have their own badge as well.)
And all this is going to take some time and cost a lot of money. Sen. Bright will have to set up a special agency to handle all of this and that will take a while and the regulations will have to be developed – and on and on it goes.
It looks like this is going to be more than one man, even someone as talented as Sen. Bright, can handle.
So, I’ve got an idea. While Sen. Bright is getting all this worked out, why don’t we let everyone decide for themselves which bathroom to use.
Last I checked, I’m pretty clear as to where I should go – and I think most other folks are too.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. email@example.com