For Sara Fawcett, president and CEO of United Way of the Midlands, the proposed buyout of SCANA Corp. by Dominion Energy of Richmond, Va., isn’t as much about nuclear power and electric rates as it is about people.
SCANA is the United Way’s second highest contributor behind BlueCross Blue Shield of South Carolina. The utility donated $1 million to the charitable clearinghouse last year, mostly from employee donations that were bolstered by an approximately one-third match by the company.
In addition, SCANA sponsors the United Way’s training lab and other initiatives and events including the Young Leaders Society and Humanitarian of the Year.
“They serve (charities) in the area in almost every capacity,” Fawcett said.
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In 2017, the utility, headquartered in Cayce, contributed more than $3 million to charitable organizations in its service areas. The company regularly supports hundreds of educational, environmental, health care, arts, culture, community and civic causes throughout the state.
Dominion, in announcing the proposed SCANA buyout, said that level of giving will continue under its new ownership. In fact, for five years, the company will increase SCANA’s giving by $1 million annually. Dominion would also use SCANA’s existing four community advisory boards – in Beaufort, Aiken, Charleston and Columbia – to guide its contribution committee in its philanthropic efforts, said company spokesman Ryan Frazier.
“We certainly want to work with the (SCANA) boards to improve our reach,” he said.
But former Mayor Bob Coble said he has seen past mergers, particularly the migration of bank headquarters to Charlotte after mergers and acquisitions in the 1980s. The companies don’t always sustain or increase their levels of giving, he said.
“When a corporate headquarters leaves our community it impacts leadership, charitable contributions and employment,” he said. “That’s been the history over the last 25 years. I don’t want to prejudge. But history has shown that a lack of corporate headquarters results in a lack of corporate giving. ”
Present Mayor Steve Benjamin told The State he was more optimistic.
“It’s not hard to lament the loss of a corporate headquarters in the Midlands,” he said. “But I’ve been in regular contact with Dominion over the last few years. They’ve been great supporters of community endeavors ... and I expect that to grow.”
Frazier noted that Dominion has had a presence in the Palmetto State since 2015, when it purchased a 1,400 mile natural gas transmission system from SCANA subsidiary SCE&G.
Since that time, the utility has announced plans for a major solar farm in the Lowcountry, built a gas pipeline southeast of Columbia, established a regional headquarters in the Capital City and hired State House lobbyists.
At the same time, it has donated $1 million to local charities that range from Midlands Technical College and Harvest Hope Food Bank to the USO.
“We already have a good feel for South Carolina,” Frazier said. “And we want to get a good feel for its communities.”
JoAnn Turnquist is president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, which serves charitable causes in 11 Midlands counties. It has managed $114 million in charitable investments from more than 390 individuals, families, corporations and organizations.
Turnquist noted that Dominion was “very generous” in giving to the One SC Fund after the floods of 2015, which the foundation managed, and has been active in charitable giving since.
“Dominion’s reputation in Virginia and Ohio has been tremendous,” she said. “I have no concern whatsoever that Dominion will give back and give back generously. That’s their history.”
But Fawcett added that it is the charities’ responsibility to help educate Dominion on the needs of different communities and help encourage and guide that giving.
“We have five years to build on that foundation and help them make a tangible difference,” she said. “In five years, when they look over (the charities they have helped), they will want to increase those philanthropic contributions to the community.”