Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

All of us have been forced to be adaptive in many ways since the start of the pandemic. We asked our Focus on the Future panelists to share some of the things they have done differently since the beginning of the pandemic. We also asked for how their organization is planning to handle in-person work moving forward. We also asked, and received quite a lot of feedback, related to the love-hate relationship we all have with Zoom and other virtual platforms. 

Is there a personal or professional (or both) habit, routine or action that you have implemented during the pandemic that you intend to continue long-term?

I’ll probably think about using remote meeting software more often than before the pandemic.  I have quickly adapted and appreciate the structure offered by these platforms, especially for smaller meetings.  And be more conscious about washing my hands better and more often!  – Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)

David Feild, Market President, Colliers International

The easy one here is virtual meetings.  I’m looking forward to more in-person meetings, but over the year, it has become evident that it is easy and convenient to meet virtually.  This allows more frequent, impactful meetings with clients and colleagues, particularly those that are out of town. – David Feild, Colliers International

I have moved to starting my day with exercise to get me going in the mornings and clear my head before work. I used to use exercise as a way to relax and unwind in the evenings, but have found that by switching to the mornings I feel much more relaxed and ready to tackle my day. If I have a stressful day I can still do some form of exercise in the evening, but have found that in general the stress level is kept down and I credit that to starting my day with the exercise. – Angie Gossett, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

While we were already planning on doing so, COVID-19 expedited our plans to live-stream our City Council meetings. Additionally, we had to also stream our various boards and commissions meetings. Aside from providing greater transparency, we also saw greater engagement from the public for these meetings and processes. All of this – transparency and engagement – was great to see.

G.P. McLeer, Mayor, City of Fountain Inn

We will continue to stream our Council meetings and our boards and commission meetings from this point forward to provide greater transparency, access, and encourage more engagement. – G.P. McLeer, Mayor, City of Fountain Inn

Technology is my friend!  The pandemic has forced me out of mu comfort zone and created a new comfort zone that is much more productive. – Amanda Munyan, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce

I had to make sure that I stayed strong physically and mentally.  Because of the restrictions placed on workout facilities, my wife and I got a Peloton bike and committed to getting up early during the week.  After the workout, I would spend a few moments in silence and thoughts. This is still my routine. – Terence Roberts, Mayor, City of Anderson

I have had more time to read as well as listen to Webinars during COVID, and I have pursued areas of interest more thoroughly. I will continue to do this even as we move forward from COVID. 

I have also enjoyed being able to use Zoom for meetings as well as social connections, and I believe that will continue for everyone. Zoom meetings are cost effective and time efficient! 

Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport Commission

Being at home more has also allowed me to walk in the park more regularly, and I do plan to continue to do that. I believe that COVID has helped all of us appreciate the importance of being with our family and our friends, being outside and enjoying nature. – Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport District

COVID taught me the benefits of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I have taken up hiking, and I can’t believe it took a pandemic for me to discover the amazing recreational resources we have within Greenville County or a short drive away. I’ve always enjoyed long walks at Lake Conestee Nature Park, but these have now led to short hikes at Paris Mountain State Park, which have grown to longer hikes in anticipation of a multi-day hike on the Foothills Trail later this spring. – Katy Pugh Smith, Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy & Piedmont Health Foundation

Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership

As most offices we have had to hold virtual meetings to conduct business. We now feel that this is an effective way to hold brief meetings.   It will still not replace face to face meetings but it has been good to know that we can still meet no matter what the circumstances. – Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership

Once everyone within your team has been vaccinated, is your office planning to return to 100% in-person work? If not, what is your planned split between work-from-home and in-person? If you are planning some type of split, do you envision ever getting back to 100% in-person?

Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)

We are fortunate to have both a smaller staff and enough office space to effectively social distance so our return to the office was relatively quick last year.  While still taking appropriate precautions, especially with office guests, we are already 100% back. – Mark Farris

With a focus on masks, social distancing, lots of PPE, adoption/use of more technology, and strict adherence to CDC guidelines, our office returned to a more normal workplace back in the early summer of 2020.  We allowed some work-from-home options as needed to accommodate school challenges, potential exposures to the virus, and for anyone with unique health circumstances, but we realized very quickly we serve our clients best by being part of a collaborative, in-person work environment.  Recruiting and developing our younger or newer talent also proved difficult from home.  We have been very pleased with our results, and we are currently encouraging all our staff to get the vaccine. – David Feild

All of our employees are essential – not only to the operation of our departments, but they keep our community running. As such, most of our employees had to come in to work every day during the pandemic. We made every effort to keep our workplaces safe, investing in regular cleaning, implementing various protocols that created less interactions between departments unless necessary, and kept our COVID leave policy running even to this day. Those that were able to work from home have now returned to the office.

We have worked with local pharmacies and healthcare providers to be sure that our essential workers have had access to vaccinations should they choose to get one. We are not requiring them for our employees. – G.P. McLeer

Kelly McWhorter, Discover Greenwood

All of our office is socially distanced enough now to continue working in the office as we have been since early summer, 2020. – Kelly McWhorter

Our staff is already at 100% in-person work.  We have a small staff and social distancing has not been an issue. – Mamie Nicholson, Self Family Foundation

Liz Seman, Chief of Staff, Furman University; Greenville County Council member

We are anxious to welcome our remote workers and learners back to campus as soon as possible.  We are grateful for the flexibility that technology has provided, but realize the immense value of being in community together. – Liz Seman

I am involved with several different organizations and each one is unique to their circumstances.  In some cases, our workforce will adapt to the new normal in which some employees will continue to work from home. However, in organizations like GSP, we do envision getting back to 100% in person employees due to the nature of the jobs. I am also on a mutual fund board, and I believe that we will have a much greater number of employees working from home and using virtual meeting platforms. – Minor Shaw

Paige Stephenson, United Way of Piedmont

One lesson we’ve learned over the past year is the UWP team doesn’t have to be in-person to make the magic happen. Going forward there will be great flexibility around where the work happens and that will be driven by project and need. Pre-COVID, we had a few team members working remotely on specific days. Going forward once it is safe, we will have some required in-person gatherings, but I do not see us returning to 100% in the office on a daily basis. – Paige Stephenson, United Way of the Piedmont

Our office has been working 100% in the office for most of the time.  We were closed to the public and worked alternating days for about 1 month during the high impact timeframe.  We will continue to practice social distancing measures for as long as needed to ensure the safety of both our employees and citizens. – Stephen Taylor

Tim Todd

Tim Todd, Executive Director of Discover Upcountry Carolina Association

We are a small office of three and have very few visitors (even pre-pandemic), so we have operated almost the same throughout the pandemic. One employee has worked remotely approximately 50% of the time for several years and he will continue that schedule. – Tim Todd, Discover Upcountry

What is your current feeling about Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms? How do you anticipate you and your company/organization using these platforms once most people are vaccinated and in-person meetings are again an option?

Paul Cain

While in-person meetings are and always have been my preferred meeting format, I expect that virtual meeting platforms are here to stay.  The pandemic has forced us all to adapt and to learn how to operate remotely, and to do so very quickly.  I think the quality of virtual meetings are lower to in-person meetings, but virtual meetings allow greater flexibility to bring together people who are geographically far apart. – Paul Cain

Neal Collins, SC House of Representatives

Zoom has positive attributes. It can be extremely efficient saving on time, especially with travel, and doesn’t apply to me as a lawyer-legislator, but I can imagine it will change corporate office overhead. For my lines of work, though, it is better to meet in-person. Too much is lost without the face-to-face communication. I expect that we have learned in my lines of work that virtual is an option if needed, but we will return to face-to-face. – Neal Collins

We often hear the phrase, “Business is about relationships!”  The pandemic taught us that while business can effectively be conducted remotely, most of us miss the person-to-person interactions that made a business deal seem more gratifying.  I appreciate Zoom and the other remote platforms that kept many of us moving forward, although I’d hate to think of those as the default or primary option for the future. – Mark Farris

I recognize virtual fatigue is a real thing.  I think we are still over-using the platforms when a simple phone call or conference call could suffice.  Despite the fatigue, I think the general adoption by almost everyone is an innovative by-product of the pandemic, and it will remain extremely relevant even as we return to a more in-person environment. – David Feild

Angie Gossett, Greenville Regional Marketing Director, BCBS of SC

I think that all of the various video platforms to host meetings have been a welcome way to still get to ‘see’ others, but not without their challenges as well. Our company has used a few different methods to hold meetings—both internally and externally—and will likely continue to use these in the future, even when staff is back in the office. Since our organization has employees throughout the state this allows for people to attend by video with their co-workers who are in another part of the state and will be how we handle some of our meetings moving forward. We have also moved to using Microsoft Teams, which allows us a lot more flexibility and easy ways to access co-workers in other areas quickly for quick answers, calls, meetings or document sharing. This will definitely be a platform that will continue to be used here. – Angie Gossett

We are seeing a return to more in-person meetings already. Our Council meetings are in-person, with limited seating, as are our boards and commission meetings. However, we do see an increase in virtual meetings for more regional gatherings that historically have been harder to schedule around, and other meetings which may need to happen sooner rather than later. We see Zoom as a great tool for us to use to allow for remote participation in various meetings so that we can be sure multiple perspectives are heard. – G.P. McLeer

While we are still trying to get used to virtual meetings and their formats, the platforms appear to be here to stay.  We have begin holding in-person meetings, but many of our attendees have still been taking advantage of the virtual meeting offerings as well.  I feel like this will continue to be utilized for the unforeseeable future while our country continues to navigate the pandemic. – Kelly McWhorter

Amanda Munyan

I personally appreciate some Zoom meetings.  We began this method kicking and screaming with hesitation, but it seems this has become more productive in many areas.  The in-person meetings, mainly the few minutes pre and post are definitely missed.  However, the virtual meetings have a better attendance and allows for more productivity, without travel time.  moving forward we will have a mix of virtual and in-person meetings, depending on the topic.  – Amanda Munyan

Mamie Nicholson, Self Family Foundation

ZOOM and other virtual platforms have allowed us to continue to operate at an almost normal pace with the absence of onsite meetings.    Our board has adapted well to virtual meetings and I expect that for those board members who are not local, this will continue to be a viable option.  This pandemic may result in a combination of hybrid and in-person meetings for board and staff going forward. – Mamie Nicholson

Terence Roberts, Mayor of Anderson and Chair of Ten at the Top

I believe that virtual meetings will always be in our “tool box” for meetings.  Iit’s an option that will be use but very sparingly.  In person meeting work best in a government setting. Transparency and citizen participation are very important. – Terence Roberts

While the ability to utilize technology (Zoom, Teams, etc.) has allowed business to continue in a safe and socially-distanced manner, nothing can replace the innovation and accountability that comes from meeting in-person.  I believe that the use of technology will remain, but I hope we rely on it less and less as the overall health of our community improves. – Liz Seman

I think that Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms have been both useful and effective.  However, it is difficult to form deep personal connections on virtual meeting platforms like one forms in face to face meetings. “Socialization” is lacking. That said, I believe that companies, foundations, non-profits, etc. will continue to incorporate virtual meeting platforms in their business plan.  Virtual meetings are cost effective and efficient.  People have enjoyed the flexibility of virtual meeting platforms. I feel sure that many organizations in which I am involved will continue to incorporate virtual meetings. – Minor Shaw

Katy Pugh Smith, Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy & Piedmont Health Foundation

I’m so glad that we are now familiar with Zoom, and I believe we are already anticipating when this can take the place of an in person gathering and when face-to-face makes more sense.  Meetings with just updates or deeper conversations or strategy sessions with well-established relationships can work well on zoom.  I don’t want to drive across town anymore for a 30 minute meeting that fits that description. Event planning has been so much easier without having to arrange lunches, print nametags, and the like.  But – for other things, I crave that in-person time and contact, and look forward to starting those gatherings soon. – Katy Pugh Smith

Over this past year, board and committee meeting attendance and participation has been stellar. I believe that has been largely due to the ease of virtual attendance. Going forward, we will probably have a blend of meeting styles – some completely virtual, some completely in-person, and many that are hybrid. For the hybrid meetings to work well, additional investment in good audio will probably be necessary. – Paige Stephenson

I believe Zoom/virtual meetings will continue to be utilized post-pandemic by our organization and other groups with whom we interact. I don’t believe they will replace in-person meetings and gatherings, but will be utilized for meetings where a lot of personal interaction is beneficial and preferred. – Tim Todd

Trentsie Williams, GLEAMNS HRC, Inc.

I am torn between the convenience of a virtual meeting platform and the benefits of in-person interaction.  There are too many networking opportunities missed due to the virtual meetings.  Our company has not made any decisions regarding the future use of virtual platforms once the majority of our staff have been vaccinated. – Trentsie Williams, GLEAMNS HRC, Inc.

Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

Focus on the Future – Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

It has now been a year since the initial steps to slow the pandemic were implemented. We asked our Focus on the Future panelists if the pandemic impacted immediate events and investments within their organization, the current status of the economy within their sector and what they see as potential long-term impacts resulting from the pandemic and economic crisis. 

Has your business or organization postponed a major investment or event over the last year? If so, are you looking at moving forward with it in the coming months? What are some of the factors behind your plans?

Our law firm has not postponed anything. As a legislator, I stopped any public events. I plan to venture out in the public more now that I am vaccinated. However, I am still concerned about being a spreader considering how many people I meet. The studies look promising and I hope it becomes fact that once vaccinated, the risk is low to be a spreader. – Neal Collins, SC House of Representatives

Not major investments, but we eliminated several significant GADC in-person events like groundbreakings, industry announcements and investor meetings.  We announced several benchmark projects in 2020 that weren’t given the normally enthusiastic “Welcome to Greenville”.  We look forward to the chance to gather in person again and will follow state and local recommendations and safety protocols. – Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)

Angie Gossett, Greenville Regional Marketing Director, BCBS of SC

Our business had to postpone a large meeting event for our brokers and our groups as it was an in person event last year that was to occur right around the same time that the state was shutting down due to the pandemic. This year we decided to make the event virtual and found that we had more attendees then when we held the event in person, due to the fact that it was easier for the companies to allow more of their staff to attend since they did not have to travel or take a whole day away from work for the event. We had a lot of people who indicated they missed seeing everyone in person, however, they also really felt that holding it in this way allowed them to include staff who would have otherwise not been able to attend. This could be something we will handle in a similar format in the future. – Angie Gossett, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

Kelly McWhorter, Discover Greenwood

Our organization was looking at a project that was going to require a significant investment from our budget.  Just like so many destination marketing organizations, the reduction in travel due to COVID caused this decision to be postponed in the interest of saving money, etc.  There are plans to revisit this project in the near future. – Kelly McWhorter, Discover Greenwood

We have our Annual Oyster Roast, our largest fundraiser, each November.  We did not host this event in 2020, but we have it scheduled for Thursday, November 4, 2021.  This event is hosted outside, with a typical attendance of approx. 600 guests.  We have not discussed any changes for 2021, but the planning committee will definitely monitor the environment over the next few months. – Amanda Munyan, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce

We canceled all of our events in Carolina Wren Park.   That was difficult for our community because it is a gathering place for entertainment, fellowship and fun.  It was great seeing people in the park for our Holliday Ice season in December.  Our plans are to roll out other event throughout the remainder of the year. It will be different because of the pandemic but it will be good to get back to our routines. – Terence Roberts, Mayor, City of Anderson

Liz Seman, Chief of Staff, Furman University; Greenville County Council member

Like many organizations, all of the major events at Furman, including fall sports, were either postponed or converted to an online format when appropriate.  It is certainly different playing football in the spring and we miss having capacity crowds in the stands, but we are grateful that our student athletes have an opportunity to showcase their talents in a safe environment.  We remain optimistic for Fall of 2021 and look forward to welcoming fans back to campus very soon! – Liz Seman, Furman University & Greenville County Council

Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport Commission

COVID has caused delays in every organization in which I am involved. As Chairman of the GSP Airport Commission, I have witnessed the incredible negative impact that COVID has had on the aviation industry. At GSP, we have had to delay several major projects, including our new parking garage. Some of our projects will move forward this coming year but others – like the parking garage – will be delayed until travel returns to normal levels. I have also noticed that COVID and the lack of in person meetings has caused delays in strategic discussions in some organizations. It is much more effective to be together in person for important discussions. – Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport Commission

Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership

We had to postpone a job fair that we had planned right at the beginning of the pandemic.  Most of the companies that were planning to exhibit at the job fair were able to advertise online for the positions that they needed to fill. We have held our monthly Board meetings online. – Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership

Would you say that the general economic state of your sector today is better/same/worse than at this time a year ago (pre-pandemic)? How would you characterize your level of economic optimism within your sector for the remainder of 2021? Please explain.

Speaking from my perspective on county council, I would say that Oconee County’s general economic state is slightly worse than this time a year ago, but not clearly so.  Unemployment is higher, but there are a good many open positions seeking employees.  While the hospitality sector has taken a substantial hit over the last year, several new restaurants and hotels opened in the past twelve months.  Real estate prices are near or above all-time highs.  Home construction has been extremely busy, due in part to the EF-3 tornado that battered our community on April 13, 2020, while building material prices and trade labor rates are extremely high.  As we have continued to invest in infrastructure and plan for the future, I am optimistic and confident that Oconee County (and all of Upstate South Carolina) will continue to grow. – Paul Cain, Oconee County Council

Neal Collins, SC House of Representatives

It is tough to say whether the economic state is better/same/worse. It depends on what lens one is looking through. However, I am grateful that the economic impact was not worse that it was. I am optimistic that the future is bright, especially in South Carolina, despite going through a pandemic. – Neal Collins

Our job is to recruit new business and industry to Greenville, as well as help local companies in their plans for growth and expansion.  While we had a great year in 2020 for capital investment, total job creation was below average.  Many companies used this downturn as an opportunity to invest in more efficient machinery and equipment and that sometimes makes workers redundant. I would rank the level of optimism for 2021 as generally higher than normal but fragile.  Any additional risks introduced into the market might have a negative compound effect for a recovering global economy. – Mark Farris

David Feild, Market President, Colliers International

I think its worth noting that the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Market, particularly in Upstate SC, is extremely well-positioned.  Over the past year many of the more negative narratives related to CRE have been based on data from the larger markets such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, etc.  Our area Office, Industrial and even Retail product categories have had much less vacancy and less negative pressure than other areas of the country over the year.  In some categories, we are already growing again as a result of being in a part of the Country people want to be, in business-friendly South Carolina, and in the Upstate particularly. – David Feild, Colliers International

Our economic state has certainly seen some declining changes in revenue due to COVID; however, there’s a strong level of optimism as we encourage safe travel and safely executed events that we hope will continue to gain momentum in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2021. – Kelly McWhorter

Amanda Munyan, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce

As a Chamber of Commerce, a member-based organization, we have lost quite a few members over the past few months which is never a good thing.  However, we have pivoted our work and our focus over the past few months and I feel like our Chamber is stronger than ever.  I feel very optimistic that our community, including business owners appreciate the valuable work we are doing and will support our efforts if possible.   We also have a good amount of potential growth on the horizon in our County and I am optimistic this will help us all become stronger and more successful.  – Amanda Munyan

I am involved in several philanthropic foundations and organizations both in North and South Carolina. The sectors we serve – the non-profit community, in particular – have suffered tremendously during COVID. Many have been in a crisis situation. Because they are in crisis, the people they serve are also in crisis. The sectors of our society served by philanthropic organizations are definitely in a worse economic state than before COVID and will continue to be in a difficult position during the rest of 2021 and, also, 2022. COVID has shown all of us the great disparities and needs in this community. I am encouraged by how well the philanthropic community, the non-profits, foundations, individuals, and our government came together to help people and organizations in crisis. It is important for our community to continue to rally together to help all of our citizens have a better quality of life. COVID has accentuated the issues that so many people in our community are facing daily. – Minor Shaw

Tim Todd

Tim Todd, Executive Director of Discover Upcountry Carolina Association

The travel & tourism industry in our area is a bit of a mixed bag.  Certain businesses such as bed & breakfasts, cabins, vacation rental properties, boat rentals, campgrounds, parks, outdoor outfitters, and fishing guides have done very well during the past year and have had record-breaking business in some cases.  The restaurants, larger hotels/lodging properties, and group venues have struggled greatly. At this point, with vaccinations being administered and with COVID-19 positive cases declining, we are optimistic that business will continue to make gradual increases for the remainder of 2021. – Tim Todd, Discover Upcountry

Is there a long-term impact from the pandemic and economic crisis that your organization is still addressing? If so, how are you engaging and for how long do you foresee it being an issue?

Paul Cain, Oconee County Council

With all of the turmoil that has gone on in our county, state, and nation, we have all been under more stress than usual. Mental health is probably the most over-looked health crisis in our country.  Realizing this was a big problem, Oconee County Administrator, Amanda Brock, implemented a program to provide mental health counseling free of charge to all county employees (the co-pay is waived until further notice).  This program removes one of the barriers that may prevent someone from seeking help, and a number of employees have already started to take advantage of the program. – Paul Cain

As a legislator, I do not see a long-term impact for the “organization.” If we are talking about impact from the pandemic, from education to economy to health, of course there will be significant long-term impact that legislators will be dealing with for years. – Neal Collins

Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)

A large part of Greenville’s economy is manufacturing-based and therefore seemingly more resilient during the pandemic than some areas of SC whose focus may be retail and commercial or even tourist-related.  However, I think we realized very quickly how many people were employed in hotels and restaurants in our area as unemployment peaked at 12.2% in May of 2020.  Now back down to about 3.6%, it may take years for our visitor and convention activity to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. – Mark Farris

Yes, we have a tremendous litter problem.  This was a huge concern pre-Covid, but it has steadily increased over the past months, potentially due to the impact of Covid life, more fast food, less community gatherings for pickups, etc.  We have many passionate people that have been addressing this issue in the past, but now more than ever, we need a collaborative effort blanketing the entire County.  We are working with leadership across the County to create a plan to combat this issue now and in the coming years. – Amanda Munyan

Terence Roberts, Mayor of Anderson and Chair of Ten at the Top

The city’s economy is strong and we have more than a handful of developments under construction in the downtown business district.  New home construction in robust throughout the city.  I sense that more families are relocating to our city because of the workforce opportunities and quality of life arena.  I continue to be very optimistic. – Terence Roberts

The effects of COVID have been particularly hard on the aviation industry.  GSP has certainly felt the effects of the economic downturn. We have had to make adjustments in our food service choices due to fewer passengers; we have had to close one of our garages due to fewer people parking cars at the airport and we have had to suspend valet parking, among other things. We have put a number of construction projects on hold.  The aviation industry estimates that it will be about three years before traffic is back to normal. We are bringing back our services for our passengers as quickly as we can!! – Minor Shaw

Paige Stephenson, United Way of Piedmont

Pre-COVID much of our workplace fundraising was conducted in-person. In response, we have embraced a digital first strategy for workplace fundraising where possible. An online giving platform combined with videos and other digital content are provided to make it easier to reach employees with the message without relying on large gatherings. I foresee this remaining the core strategy in healthcare settings for the foreseeable future and believe it will be a key component even when in-person meetings are possible. – Paige Stephenson, United Way of the Piedmont

Click here to visit the Focus on the Future webpage to view previous questions and responses!

Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

Focus on the Future: Key Topics for 2021

What is something within your area of focus you are particularly paying attention to heading into 2021? Why?

As a legislator, I have been focused on education. Covid has consumed much of my attention in 2020. It has also only highlighted the issues within education in SC. The states that are able to capitalize off the disruption will improve relative to other states. The states that cannot will suffer. – Neal Collins

Pundits and consultants are now saying that mid-size communities like Greenville will actually benefit from the ‘de-urbanization’ trend initiated by COVID 19.  We were already growing at an historic rate and these projections may create an even greater demand from folks fleeing the density of bigger cities in favor of places like the Upstate.  The need for consistent and sustainable land use planning is critical.  If we do not develop more reasonable land use patterns, we will jeopardize the very quality of life that we now enjoy and others find attractive. – Mark Farris

I am curious about various organization’s return to office space and what changes may occur with floorplans going forward.  Adoption of at-home work, in part or 100%, how does open space change, furniture needs change, wellness minded improvements at the office, focus on cleanliness and all the cost associated with these changes are all very interesting to me.  – David Feild

For obvious reasons, we are paying attention to what is happening with the virus spread and the intensity of the cases. This impacts our business from many avenues including a claims standpoint, providers ability to treat our members, as well as our groups ability to continue to grow and remain a viable business. Throughout the pandemic it has become apparent that the need to have access to telehealth will remain and this could be an area of growth for our providers, as patients and providers find the convenience of this method of care distribution to be easier and allows the access to be greater. – Angie Gossett

Headed into 2021 our organization will be focused on the 2021 South Carolina Legislative Session, which begins in January.  Legislative advocacy is the primary focus of SCMA, and there are a number of issues we will be engaged on ranging from workforce and education to economic development and regulatory issues.  We need to ensure that South Carolina’s competitive business climate remains strong, that we are cultivating and supporting our future and current workforce, and that we are always thinking one step ahead on behalf of our state’s manufacturing industry.  – Sara Hazzard

We are eyeing the speed at which a vaccine is available to the public at-large. In most audience surveys conducted by arts organizations, many individuals stated that they will feel comfortable returning to arts events at the level they did prior to COVID-19 when a vaccine is available. While we of course are paying attention to further monetary and policy COVID relief for the arts industry, the vaccine is the one item that gets arts groups back to “normal”. – G.P. McLeer

In 2021, I will be paying close attention to small businesses and entrepreneurial support.  2020 has been a very challenging year for local, small businesses and has required many adjustments in the way they operate.  Although many have been successful at staying afloat, I know there are educational opportunities and resources we can offer to help them better prepare for their future as a small business owner.  I understand the importance of these businesses to the character and unique offerings in our communities. – Amanda Munyan

Education/public secondary – virtual opportunities for secondary education students is an area of interest that I am particularly paying attention to as we move forward.  – Mamie Nicholson

Product Development.  The recent wave of economic activity in the southeast remains an oracle of what is to come, with residential, commercial and industrial development.  The Upstate needs to remain mindful of key industrial properties that will need to be preserved in and among other sectors.  Without the ability to recruit quality jobs and investment in our future, our overall growth will be limited.  – Katherine O’Neill

The Piedmont Health Foundation has long been focused on improving transit in Greenville County. The pandemic reminded us that transit is essential for essential workers.  Greenlink’s ridership didn’t drop nearly as much as many larger communities because its riders are so much more dependent on bus service. At the same time, Greenville’s population has continued to grow – even in 2020 as people moved here from larger cities.  So we believe that the work Greenlink staff have done to improve services and plan for the future will be even more vital going forward. – Katy Smith

Business operations and construction growth in the market. – Chuck Saylors

Overall business recovery, employment rates, eviction rates because these factors will impact our ability to raise funds and the level of need in our community. – Paige Stephenson

Has the raised awareness and discussions around racial equity and social justice impacted your business or area of interest? If so, how and what is the ongoing result?

This is a journey Prisma Health has been on for years.  However, the raised awareness has really created the opportunity for more open conversation.  It is a great culture to instill and get people out of their comfort zone to be able to talk and more importantly…LISTEN AND HEAR!  The journey has been one of education.  However, the raised awareness has allowed for not just education, but practice.  I am very pleased with our progress of learning, understanding and curiosity to continue working toward the full appreciation of one another coming from different backgrounds, situations and circumstances.  What a wonderful thing as we can all learn from one another to ultimately get to our common goals and achieve the missions and purposes of our organizations.  We all have a lot of healing to do, but we can do this together…as one people, one nation, but it HAS to be done with intentionality and purpose.  Again, I am very pleased with progress within Prisma Health thus far, but as with any improvement, we have work to do…TOGETHER! – Justin Benfield

The raised awareness regarding racial equity and social justice has definitely impacted the factors which I consider when approaching a policy decision.  For instance, we created a permanent position within the Sheriff’s office to manage cultural diversity issues.  In the past, I have been focused on those who were the loudest (i.e. “squeaky wheels”), but I now understand that some groups in our community are so marginalized that they do not even have the energy to speak up; it is the marginalized and the downtrodden that need our attention the most. – Paul Cain

Racial Justice and Equity took center stage for several weeks early in the summer as Clemson Football Players organized a peaceful march, in which we participated, after the deaths of George Floyd and Briana Taylor.  It was also the catalyst for the formation of a community group called CURE – Clemson United for Race Equity – which has continued to meet and is laying the groundwork for a series of community wide discussions on racial justice and equity. – Susan Cohen

Yes, in the political world, I would think one has to have blinders on to not be thinking about racial equity and social justice. I hope to do my part in continuing to raise awareness and hopefully having some legislative impact in this area. – Neal Collins

Yes – the awareness and discussions around racial equity and social justice have greatly affected the work in which I am involved in both private foundations and non-profits. This will be an ongoing conversation and will result in the way entities in which I am involved allocate funds. – Minor Shaw

Yes, it has been a component of our work. It has now being approached in a much more intentional manner. We are having different conversations within our team and at our board meetings and are developing a plan to operate as a more equitable organization. We have instituted an annual race equity training for our board and team members. Equity measures will be a stated measure in our investment decisions. By July 2021, we will have a formal anti-racism statement that will be publicly posted and guide how we operate. – Paige Stephenson

To view “Focus on the Future: Understanding the ‘New Normal'”, click here.

To view Focus on the Future Panelists, click here.

Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

Focus on the Future – Understanding the “New Normal”

Many say that we are headed for a “new normal”. Do you think your business/organization/community has been changed forever or do you think things will eventually settle back to a similar style as existed pre-pandemic? Why?

“Never let a good crisis go to waste” …Winston Churchill.  I can say the way healthcare has shifted from this crisis has formed the “new normal”.  We have had to rely heavily upon more efficient ways of conducting business, with fewer resources.   Both have been points of discussion for years.  We were forced to implement more options around telehealth and we now see that expanding into many different subspecialties.  Additionally, the interfacility collaboration has proven hospitals are more capable of sharing resources, raising levels of care in the community hospitals and fully utilizing the assets available.  This will result in more use of community hospitals and decompressing the larger tertiary facilities.  – Justin Benfield

I have hope, especially with the latest news, that a vaccine will be successful and then distributed successfully. So, I have hope that life will return to pre-pandemic lifestyles. – Neal Collins

I am certain my business has been changed forever.  The pandemic has really provided a reason to fast forward my industry’s use of technology.  There has been dramatic innovation and adoption as it relates to a real estate tour, basic communication, and ability to collaborate with partners anywhere, anytime. – David Feild

I think our business has changed but will likely have some go back to working in the office. Most of our organization was sent to work from home, but not all chose to do that or had the ability to do that. We have worked to make sure that our clients and providers are not experiencing any delays or disruptions. I do think that we will have some employees remain as work from home employees after it is safe to go back into the office. Throughout this time it has been shown that we do have positions that are able to be a work from home position while still being effective and efficient. – Angie Gossett

I do think we have changed forever.   The pandemic has forced us to do things differently and with social distancing and masks so prominent in our lives, the way we conduct events, meetings, etc. will probably feature a virtual component it hasn’t before and this may continue for the indefinite future.  While I know everyone would love to go “back to normal”, I fear we will most likely be facing a new normal with the above explanation as just one example of doing things in a different, safer way. – Kelly McWhorter

I believe the new normal will be normal moving forward – it will be our way of life and hopefully, will lead us to a more inclusive, socially conscious society. – Mamie Nicholson

We will all see long term adjustments moving forward, not sure we could call it a new normal. – Chuck Saylors

I do think that the organizations in which I am involved have been changed forever. There is heightened awareness of the issues surrounding racial inequities and economic disparities. Funding will “follow” the awareness of the need to make positive changes in these issues. Also, I believe people have a new appreciation of the importance of taking more time for family and for friends – concentrating on what is important. – Minor Shaw

I believe that the more flexible work day and work attire that quarantine have allowed will continue post-pandemic.  I’ve also discovered that there are many meetings and conversations that we used to host or attend in person that have now shifted to zoom and that I think can stay virtual going forward (no need to drive across town for a 30-minute check in).  On the other hand, I do think we have so much pent up hunger to be together in real life.  So I imagine that in later 2021 or whenever it’s safe, we’ll see a lot of larger gatherings – perhaps a roaring twenties of the 21st century. – Katy Smith

I think that human nature is to seek routine and consistency.  I think that thinks will eventually settle back to a similar style to pre-pandemic.  People in the community are wanting events, interaction, and activities to reset to pre-pandemic.  I think that should the vaccine prove effective (or sadly reach herd immunity) that people will begin to venture back to programs, events, and activities.  We are still trying to find ways to engage them while remaining socially distance, and this may assist us in reaching groups that we normally would not have engaged. – Stephen Steese

I think things have been changed for us going forward. I believe there will be a push to do most workplace campaigns with a digital first approach, and we will need to develop engagement opportunities that meet corporate social responsibility goals to gain face-to-face access to employees during a workday. – Paige Stephenson

I think we settle back to a similar style. We are starting to see it over the last couple of months with prospect visits. – Stephen Taylor

I believe that a few things, such as cleaning protocols, will be permanently altered, but I feel that after a period of 2-3 years, most things will go back to “normal.” If an effective vaccine(s) are developed and are given to enough of the world population, then hopefully the return to normalcy can be achieved. – Tim Todd

Due to COVID-19, our office provided a remote work option.  Our staff continued to operate effectively and efficiently throughout our 10 weeks of remote work.  Our office has changed forever, because remote work wasn’t an option prior to COVID. – Trentsie Williams

As you look ahead, what is one thing you, your organization or business has implemented during the pandemic that you expect to continue long term?

Video-conferencing has become a mainstay of meetings that I attend for my law practice and my involvement on county council, as well as pretty much any other organization in which I’m involved.  Once the pandemic subsides, I expect in-person meetings to return, but not to the degree that such meetings existed pre-COVID.  When a meeting attendee has a potential scheduling conflict due to travel before or after a meeting, I would expect that the attendee would generally be able to mitigate such conflict via video-conferencing. – Paul Cain

The pandemic raised awareness services from various organizations, the City and the Chamber might be more efficiently coordinated to address strengths, weaknesses, and duplications.  It also began an ongoing conversation regarding “preparedness” – what do we need to address to be better prepared for challenges in the future.  I believe these discussions were very productive and will be part of our normal planning process going forward. – Susan Cohen

The South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance (SCMA) has always been laser-focused on the needs of our state’s manufacturing community.  The pandemic compelled us to take communication with our members to the next level.  In the early weeks of the pandemic, the issues facing our manufacturers were truly unprecedented, and we worked around the clock to provide resources and the latest information to our members.  Today, we continue to provide information and assistance to our members in impactful ways.  – Sara Hazzard

I expect to continue doing business using a virtual platform at lease in a hybrid model and to continue to seek out opportunities to lift up and support the work that is currently being done and opportunities to improve. – Mamie Nicholson

As much as I appreciate in-person meetings, I foresee OneSpartanburg, Inc. still finding ways to use virtual meetings for efficiency and cost savings.  – Katherine O’Neill

Over the past few months I have hosted and participated in many virtual meetings.  Overall I am “Zoomed out,” but the pandemic and need for social distancing has required us to learn how to use our resources more efficiently.  I definitely miss the face to face meetings and human interaction, but this style meeting cuts down on travel time, planning, sometimes expense, and often brings better participation.  Although we have returned to some in-person meetings, which I would personally prefer, some are better suited using technology.  – Amanda Munyan

Being more mindful of client interactions outside a controlled environment. – Chuck Saylors

I think the use of Zoom (or other remote meeting technology) will continue to be a part of our daily lives post-COVID.  While many of us look forward to meetings in person, impromptu conversations in the break room and team gatherings after hours, technology certainly provides opportunities for us to effectively collaborate across town, across state lines and across oceans.  Relationships and personal interactions are critical to any business and Zoom has provided a way for us to stay connected – personally and professionally – while also keeping us safe.  – Liz Seman

Ability for remote work for interested team members. We think it is a key retention strategy and helps people balance/integrate their personal and professional lives. – Paige Stephenson

We began working remotely part of the time during the pandemic, especially when one employee tested positive for COVID-19. I believe that we will continue to work remotely at least part of the time from now on. I don’t foresee going totally remote, but it’s not completely out of consideration. – Tim Todd

Is there one thing either personally or professionally that you plan to implement in 2021? What is it and why?

GADC is embarking on a new strategic planning process.  While largely coincidental to the virus, it has been over a decade since the organization last did a strategic review. Our objective is to develop a longer range economic development action plan.  Trends tend to accelerate in times of crisis so we want to use this as an opportunity to better position Greenville to win new jobs and investment in a dynamic and sometimes unstable global economy. – Mark Farris

In 2021 the SC Arts Alliance, the only statewide arts advocacy organization, will conduct it’s signature Arts Advocacy Week 100% digitally. But what this move will do for us throughout 2021 is allow us to focus more on developing quality training content and information distribution related to advocacy. Legislative updates, advocacy skill building, and “nuts and bolts” education will be front and center as we look to really empower arts advocates across the state to make a difference in their community and this state. – G.P. McLeer

It is our hope to implement, plan, execute, and host a national conference for Greenwood.  This will be the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity.  In partnership with Spartanburg, Greenwood will serve as the host community for America in Bloom’s National Symposium. – Kelly McWhorter

More positive promotion for the need of what goes on within public education. – Chuck Saylors

The isolation of the pandemic has reminded me how much I have missed being (un-masked) face-to-face with my colleagues and friends.  While I have participated in Zoom happy-hours and other virtual events, I look forward to many intentional in-person conversations and celebrations in 2021! – Liz Seman

We are focusing on the vaccine and distribution.  The city has several groups that fall into the first or second category of this to be vaccinated.  We will have to make some tough decisions on if vaccines will be required or not.  We are also going to need to track how the vaccines are being accepted and given in the community to determine its penetration and percent treated. These numbers will help us decide on how some events, operations, or regulations should be amended or adjusted.  We will also be tracking the continued spike in cases in the Upstate, Pickens County, and our City.  – Stephen Steese

Better marketing. I think we focused to heavily on external marketing partners and need to focus on marketing in house. This is not all due the pandemic, but something that needed to be addressed. – Stephen Taylor

To view responses to the Focus on the Future: Key Topics for 2021, click here.

To view the list of panelists click here.

Focus on the Future – Zooming Into the Future

Ten at the Top – Focus on the Future

Regardless of the sector or location, 2020 has been a trying time for all Upstate entities. As we move into a new year, an uncertain future remains. To help us to better understand some of the ongoing challenges from the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, we have compiled a group of local, regional and state business, government and non-profit leaders who will periodically share their insights on a variety of topics and community issues. By sharing their struggles, successes and continued efforts they will help all Upstate entities better understand and navigate this uncertain future.

To view responses to Question Set Part I click here. To view responses to Question Set Part II click here.

Below are the Focus on the Future panelists:

Justin Benfield, Chief Executive Officer, Prisma Health – Laurens County Hospital

Paul Cain, Council Member, Oconee County

Susan Cohen, President & CEO, Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce

Neal Collins, Representative, S.C. House of Representatives

Mark Farris, President & CEO, Greenville Area Development Corporation

David Feild, Market President, Colliers International

Angie Gossett, Regional Marketing Director, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

Sara Hazzard, President & CEO, South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance

Madeleine McGee, Executive Director, Together SC

G.P. McLeer, Mayor, City of Fountain Inn; Executive Director, South Carolina Arts Alliance

Kelly McWhorter, Executive Director, Discover Greenwood

Amanda Munyan, President & CEO, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce

Mamie Nicholson, President, Self Family Foundation

Katherine O’Neill, Chief Economic Development Officer, One Spartanburg

Terence Roberts, Mayor, City of Anderson

Chuck Saylors, Trustee, Greenville County School Board; Vice President, MB Kahn

Liz Seman, Council Member, Greenville County; Chief of Staff, Furman University

Minor Shaw, Chairman, Daniel-Mickel Foundation

Katy Smith, Executive Director, Piedmont Health Foundation & Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy

Stephen Steese, City Manager, City of Easley

Paige Stephenson, President & CEO, United Way of the Piedmont

Stephen Taylor, Executive Director, Abbeville County Economic Development

Tim Todd, Executive Director, Discover Upcountry

Trentsie Williams, Director of Finance, Meg’s House