COLUMBIA, S.C., MARCH 14, 2012 - - As president and CEO of the state association of electric cooperatives, Mike Couick is highly cognizant of his accountability to the 1.5 million South Carolinians who rely on his member utilities for affordable electricity. So when presented with the opportunity to invest $2.5 million in a SmartState Program Center of Economic Excellence committed to energy research, he and the cooperative's leadership agreed without hesitation.
"Here was a chance to bring a rising star in energy research to the University of South Carolina (USC), and for the electric co-ops and partner Santee Cooper to use this new brain power to stabilize or reduce future energy costs," explains Couick. "We see investing in the SmartState Center for Strategic Approaches to the Generation of Electricity (SAGE) as a key to future energy availability and efficiency."
Many other corporations and organizations agree with Couick that the SmartState Program is a valuable economic development asset. For instance, Santee Cooper also invested $2.5 million in the SAGE SmartState Center. The combined dollars of the two utilities represent a full match of the state's $5 million award.
Today, the SmartState Program announced it has reached 99 percent of the required state match for the entire program, having secured $192 million in non-state investment. This total represents investments of $500,000 or more from 50 corporations and non-profit organizations.
The SmartState Program was created in 2002 when the General Assembly passed legislation supporting the establishment of Centers of Economic Excellence at Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and USC. Research conducted by the Centers' SmartState Endowed Chairs is intended to fuel the state's knowledge-based economy by creating high-paying jobs and increasing economic opportunities throughout the state. The universities must match funds made available through the South Carolina Education Lottery with one-to-one investments from non-state partners such as businesses and private foundations to establish Centers and hire SmartState Endowed Chairs.
South Carolina's electric cooperatives are among a veritable "who's who" of corporations and organizations which have invested in South Carolina's SmartState Program over the last decade. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, BMW, Fluor, GlaxoSmithKline, Michelin, Smith & Nephew, The Duke Endowment, Timken, and Toyota to name just a few, have invested from $500,000 to $11 million each to support university-based research that advances their corporate and organizational strategies and, in the process, promotes the economic interests of all South Carolinians.
Pamela Lackey, president of AT&T South Carolina, whose company foundation has invested $360,000 in the Cancer Disparities Center of Economic Excellence at MUSC, USC and South Carolina State University, believes the SmartState program "will make a lasting difference for South Carolina's future."
"The SmartState Program is an innovative, forward-looking collaboration between the public and private sectors that stimulates investment, creates jobs and expands our state's intellectual capital, all of which are essential to success in a global, information-based economy. AT&T is committed to helping move this state forward and we are proud that our long partnership with SmartState led to the recent announcement of Dr. Chanita Hughes-Halbert as the inaugural holder of the AT&T Distinguished Endowed Chair in Cancer Equity."
Couick says what makes the SmartState Program unique is that the SmartState Endowed Chairs do not operate in academic silos. Many of the researchers and engineers work hand-in-hand with their corporate partners.
"We spent two years working with USC to recruit our SmartState Endowed Chair, Dr. Jochen Lauterbach. We wanted the right intellectual and personal fit for the long-term strategies of the electric cooperatives and Santee Cooper. There is considerable interaction between the cooperatives and Dr. Lauterbach as we look to solve tomorrow's energy challenges today," he says.
SmartState Program has other examples of corporate-funded university research that are creating opportunities for business, the state's workforce and students. In the Upstate, for example, BMW has invested $10 million in automotive research at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). In addition to attracting other automotive companies, BMW's investment has helped make Clemson's automotive engineering graduates among the most highly sought after in the world.
In Charleston, Force Protection has invested $1.2 million in the SmartState Center for Brain Imaging, where the work of MUSC researchers is supporting the next generation of armored vehicles.
Regan Voit, chair of the SmartState Review Board, says that achieving 99 percent of the required state match from corporate partners proves the SmartState Program is working. There is additional proof that this unique public-private partnership is accomplishing its mission to develop the state's knowledge-based economy.
"South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt reports that industries outside of South Carolina have heard of the SmartState Program and are asking how they can get involved. This innovative program has set the national standard for successful public-private partnerships that use research and innovation to drive economic prosperity. This is good news not just for South Carolina, but the country at large," Voit says.
About the SmartState Program
The South Carolina SmartState Program was created by the South Carolina legislature in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each Center is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in State Lottery funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state investment. To date, 48 Centers have been created and 43 SmartState Endowed Chairs have been appointed to lead the Centers. The SmartState Program has resulted in more than $1.2 billion dollars in non-state investment into the South Carolina economy and is responsible for the creation of more than 7,000 jobs. www.SmartStateSC.org.