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Board Member Earl Wilson recognized as an Entrepreneur of the Year

April 02, 2009

Sumter Development Board Member Earl Wilson has been recognized as a Rural Entrepreneur of the Year at the recent S.C. Rural Summit.  The Rural Summit seeks to focus attention on the contributions of rural communities to the overall state economy. 

In many ways, Earl is the epitome of a rural American entrepreneur success story, a man who rose from the most humble of beginnings to reach the very top of his growing company. Today he is president of The Orr Company, a partnership that owns and operates 10 KFC and Arby’s restaurants in Florence and Sumter. 

Like many young people, Earl entered the fast food business with the simple goal of making ends meet while he was in college. But John Orr, the owner of the company, saw Earl’s potential and tapped him for store management.  After several years as a successful manager, in 1994 Earl accepted a promotion to become general manager of the entire company, overseeing all day-to-day management. And in 2005, Mr. Orr, the owner of the company, named Earl the new president. 

While Earl has shown the business acumen to be an excellent executive and to continue to grow the company, it is his philosophy in dealing with his employees that sets him apart. Put simply, that philosophy is “take care of your people and your people will take care of you,” a quote Earl is often heard repeating.   

Earl is a firm believer in the young people who work with him. He spends about half his time each day talking to them and listening to them. He meets their parents and assures them he will do what he can to help them succeed. He is a true role model to his younger employees and a trusted friend to his older ones.  That shows through the extraordinary tenure of many Orr Company employees. Of the 200 employees at the company, more than 75 have been there for 5 years or more, and 18 have been with the company for more than 20 years. Overall, the Orr Company has just a 40 percent turnover rate in an industry that averages 200-400 percent, meaning the average fast food employee lasts less than six months on the job. 

Earl Wilson is an extraordinary entrepreneur who rose from an entry-level cook to the leadership of his company. He manages a growing business that continues to be highly successful, even in these trying economic times. And he genuinely cares about his employees in an industry that all too often treats workers as disposable.

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“We are grateful for the support we have received here in Sumter and South Carolina. Dynamic
local organizations and so many individuals have definitely helped us expand. More jobs at Apex
help the entire Sumter community. It’s great to be a part of that.”
Ryan Cagle
Vice President, ABS and Project Management Apex Tool Group, LLC.