Navigating Lifeâ€™s Bunkers and Fairways
Retiring Lexington Chamber CEO Reflects on his Career
By Kristine Hartvigsen
For years, Randy Halfacre left the driveway of his home on the 14th fairway of the Golden Hills Golf Course and drove through his neighborhood, glancing wistfully at tanned, early-morning golfers clad in Bermuda shorts teeing off while he, in suit and tie, dutifully headed to work as President and CEO of the Lexington County Chamber of Commerce.
“I used to be a good player,” he said. “I was probably a 12 handicap golfer.” Having taken up golf as a child, Halfacre became a star on his high school golf team. He has had a lifelong love for the game, but mounting responsibilities and commitments in adulthood cut into time on the links. Living on the golf course, those manicured putting greens were so near but so far. “I was driving through my neighborhood every day and could only see the fairways − not experience them.”
That is going to change, as the respected business leader embarks on his next chapter. Halfacre retired at the end of 2015 and looks forward to slowing down a bit, enjoying family, and breathing in the fresh-cut grass of Golden Hills.
To be clear, Halfacre has loved every stage of his 47-year, multi-faceted career, which has spanned high-profile government, private, and political roles. For more than three decades, he served in various capacities with the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. He was deputy director of the agency when he left in 2000 to work for a small private business, Lesesne Industries, for seven years. During that time, he decided to dip his toe into public service.
“I started my career as a government employee for 32 years. It was a bureaucratic role,” he said. “Then I was elected to Town Council. I moved from carrying out public policy to creating policy.”
In 2004, he ran for and was elected Mayor of Lexington. Three years late, he was aggressively recruited to take on leadership of the Lexington Chamber. “I chose to run for mayor,” he explained, “but I was asked to be the Chamber’s CEO. Once I put on that second hat, I had a tremendous amount of responsibility.” And while it is difficult to confirm, it is widely believed that Halfacre is the first person in the country to simultaneously have overseen both a town government as well as a chamber of commerce. He considers it the proudest achievement of his esteemed career.
“Those seven years serving as a ‘two-hat’ brought about synergy that helped the Chamber and the town grow and prosper,” Halfacre said. “I don’t think that would have been created otherwise. It all worked very well because we were able to collaborate and build partnerships.”
Halfacre is especially grateful for the support and guidance of the late Ike McLeese, then President and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“He taught me the ABC’s of chamber business, the do’s and don’ts. He became a really great friend but, more importantly, a mentor to me,” he said. “I never will forget when Ike reached out to me. It was when the Southwest Airlines issue came up. The Midlands had been wooing Southwest for a decade.”
The courtship of the airline ultimately fell short. In 2010, Southwest Airlines chose the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. It was a crushing blow and the impetus for a change in strategy. Halfacre and McLeese, in working with other business leaders on moving forward to build business capacity and boost the economy, concluded that a collaborative organization was needed. Thus was born the Mid-State Chambers Coalition comprised of chamber executives from 11 Midlands counties. McLeese wanted a reluctant Halfacre to lead it, but Halfacre felt his mentor was more qualified and pushed back.
“He said that by virtue of his experience, he had built up a lot of detractors over the years. He had tried this before, and it hadn’t gotten off the ground. He said that I was the perfect person to lead it,” Halfacre recalled. “He had such humility. He didn’t need to be out front. … He told me I needed to be the face of the coalition. It took a lot of intestinal fortitude to do that.”
Newly fortified with a unified coalition of chambers, the Midlands’ next challenge was bringing an Amazon distribution center to South Carolina.
“When Amazon popped up, no one really understood what the issue was,” Halfacre explained. “The county knew it was coming, and officials were excited about it. But all of the sudden, there were rumblings that the government would not support it” because of a contentious five-year sales tax exemption offered as an incentive.
Soon, the Lexington Chamber set up a website to defend and promote the Amazon deal. It printed up T-shirts and signs to raise awareness. “It caught on like wildfire,” he said. And after much wrangling in the General Assembly from both sides, and despite a gubernatorial veto, the Amazon deal ultimately prevailed.
“We reached out to both sides of the aisle to bring resources to the table. Amazon is probably the biggest example of that, Halfacre recalled. “You have got to work both sides of the aisle to get things accomplished.
Halfacre said it wasn’t a sudden decision, and it just seemed like the right time to retire while he was still on top of his game. “At my age, I had mulled it over for some time, and I just felt like I had accomplished and actually exceeded most of the goals and objectives the chamber Board had charged me with. … I was a two-hat guy for seven years. That took a toll on me. …
“I still have some fire in my belly and am still energetic, but I want some R&R and family time.”
For now, at least, Halfacre is focusing on resting, playing golf, and enjoying more time with his family and grandchildren. In time, he said he is interested in perhaps pursuing some part-time role in academia.
“My wife is a retired school teacher. My three daughters are all teachers,” he said. “I may go back and get my teaching degree and perhaps teach adjunct.”
Asked if there might be a book on the horizon, Halfacre conceded that while he has a lot of experience to share that would be helpful to others, if he were to write a book, “it would be a short book of musings.”
For now, he is happy to unwind and lose his socks.
“I am a ‘no socks’ guy,” he said. “I am kind of an old beach boy, and I love beach music. I don’t wear socks unless I have to.” At the end of a long, taxing day, “I’d tell my wife, I really just want to get out of this tie and socks.”