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    Lou Kennedy: Opening and Connecting South Carolina

    Lou spent time in early May talking with officials at the University of South Carolina about the sanitizing practices Nephron is employing at their facility, which include fogging common areas, offices, and labs with hydrogen peroxide that will kill all germs and viruses for several hours. She hopes that the University can employ this practice to help students and professors return to the classroom feeling safe and secure on campus.

    When she finds a cause that she’s passionate about, Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy doesn’t hold back. She dives in headfirst and begins brainstorming solutions and opportunities, she ignites conversations with decision-makers, and she is relentless in her pursuit of solving the issue. Her problem-solving passion isn’t just limited to her work inside of her company or within the medical industry, either. She’s a champion for our Columbia community and beyond, and right now she’s fighting hard to get South Carolina back to normal as quickly and safely as possible.

     

    “Personally, as a business owner, I appreciate the way that Governor McMaster worded South Carolina’s Stay at Home Orders by saying that essential businesses would be able to continue working,” said Lou. “I told our employees from the beginning that COVID-19 was a respiratory distress issue, we make respiratory medicines, we are essential.” Nephron made coming to work easier for their employees by offering childcare during the day for children that were no longer able to attend school. The childcare included teachers that would work on e-learning assignments from school in the morning, lunchtime each day where the parents could sit down and eat with their children, and scheduled afternoon activities to keep the kids moving and active. It’s a program that Lou says she wishes she could offer all the time for her employees because of how successful it has been.

     

    As a result of the pandemic, Lou is also supporting as many locally-owned restaurants as she can and is providing 50 meals every day to her team, making sure the meals are offered to different departments around the company on day and night shifts. She has ordered meals from Blue Marlin, Private Property, Hudson’s, The Kingsman, The Root Cellar, Cantina 76, and more for her employees to enjoy. Nephron has also opened the doors to their in-house pharmacy that is available for employees to shop, and they recently ordered new solar-powered sun umbrellas to add to the rooftop garden. Nephron has also purchased COVID-19 testing equipment—equipment that will test for the virus and equipment that will test for antibodies. This is equipment that she wants to make available to the local small businesses in our community so that they can help stop the spread of the virus and get businesses back up and running.

     

    “The faster we get businesses back open, the faster we can increase our philanthropic donations,” said Lou. “As we’re profitable, we’re more philanthropic, and it takes more than just government to lift up our communities and take care of our neighbors. It’s all about public-private partnerships that are as creative and innovative as they are generous. The quicker we can get business owners in the private sector back to where we were in January, the more donations you’ll see, and that helps with philanthropy.” Specifically, Lou hopes to see those philanthropy dollars go to helping find a solution for rural broadband access.

     

    “We’ve got to increase rural broadband access not only for telehealth and telemedicine, but also for children and this e-learning platform that school districts have had to shift to,” said Lou. “South Carolina has 6% of school-aged children that they haven’t even been able to contact or get a response from during this pandemic as schools have closed. They’ve just fallen off the grid. There’s been no e-learning from them, and that’s unfortunate. If we had greater access, we could have avoided that.” While the recent pandemic and school closures have shined a bright light on the discrepancy between urban and rural broadband access, this is a project that Lou has been passionate about since a meeting with US Rep. Jim Clyburn in 2019. He talked with her about children who lack access to reliable high-speed internet and who had to travel each day to find somewhere with WiFi where they could complete their schoolwork—whether that was a parking lot outside of a restaurant or inside of a coffee house.

     

    “I think it shined a spotlight on an issue we all probably knew that we had. We knew that there was somebody out in Saluda that couldn’t get connectivity, but what I think it brought into real laser focus is that there are kids off Two Notch Road that don’t have connectivity. There are kids in your child’s district or your child’s class that don’t have the same opportunities that you do because you have WiFi in your home. These children are having to go to a McDonald’s or Starbucks parking lot to do their homework.” The issue goes beyond the e-learning platform though, as South Carolinians in rural areas are falling further behind in healthcare, business, education, workforce training, and more without the reliable access that most urban households have.

     

    “The pandemic is what prompted everyone to start looking at the issue with rural broadband access,” said Lou. “But I try to look at it from three ways. The first is telehealth and telemedicine. Second, we need to have a way for children to learn and to dream. Finally, as we find ourselves in this situation, think of the training that we could do for workforce development by leaving people home as long as possible, setting them up to do things before they even come to the workplace, and we could do e-learning and training.” Lou believes that now is a great time to make a move on increasing the broadband access because of the COVID-19 Funding Packages that are being discussed and implemented in our country. The problem has grown to the point that it needs actions and dollars now to begin to level out the field before the discrepancy between the haves and the have nots gets worse.

     

    “I feel like absolutely the time has come, and I do agree with Congressman Clyburn. We have to look at it as infrastructure in this country meaning roads, highways, bridges, and connectivity. I really like when he says that and I fully support him. There’s more traction now, even more than last summer when Congressman Clyburn first brought it up to me.

     

    “If we don’t take care of our own, we may see an economy that is too hard to finally bring back,” Lou said. “If we don’t make sure that the underprivileged and folks that don’t have the same leg up that others do get access to a new way of life or progress or innovation, we might find that segment of our population grows rather than diminishes. It’s up to us to take care of our own and try to do this so that we can offer more to all Americans.”

     

    "If these children can’t go online and figure out how to become a pilot or a teacher or a microbiologist or engineer, how are we ever going to expect them to pursue that? They don’t even know about it. They have no introduction to it because they don’t have reliable access to broadband internet." LOU KENNEDY