The University of South Carolina, IBM and Fluor Corp. agreed Friday to develop a technology research center on campus that helps begin to realize a long-term regional business goal.
“It goes along with what Columbia and the Midlands have hoped for a long time: that we would become an (information technology) destination,” USC president Harris Pastides said. “We hope this will be a magnet for additional companies.”
The deal – which includes projects to help companies save money and build skills for the latest technology jobs – could help fulfill some of the promise of the $144 million Innovista research campus, meant to marry university research with businesses.
Progress toward that promise has been hampered by the poor economy and Innovista’s sometimes-troubled leadership. Expected private development — supposed to follow construction of two academic buildings — never materialized.
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However, two years ago, the university revamped its economic-development arm to work on these kinds of collaborations.
USC leaders worked with the IBM, a long-expected Innovista tenant, and Fluor, a construction giant led by an alum, along with city of Columbia officials on the deal that was approved by university trustees Friday.
“It says to the world that we’re serious,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said.
The agreement comes as a private developer is building a $25 million, five-story office tower on university property at the corner of Blossom and Assembly streets, next to one of Innovista’s academic halls. IBM and Fluor will be major tenants.
The same developer, Atlanta-based Holder Properties, is taking part in another public-private partnership with USC — a $94.6 million apartment complex, being built behind the Carolina Coliseum.
Deals with private developers are one way that USC hopes to show skeptical state lawmakers that the school is finding ways to grow without additional public money. USC, like other state colleges, is undergoing a cost-efficiency review, approved by the General Assembly last spring.
The city of Columbia is kicking in $350,000 to defray costs for two Innovista parking decks backed with bonds, issued by the city and Richland County, that the school pays, Benjamin said.
For years, the university covered deficits from the parking lots, which were not making enough money to cover the $1.4 million in annual bond payments. Now, the parking facilities are breaking even as more students move on campus, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said.
Benjamin, a former USC student body president, said the city is making a smart investment for the amount of taxes — which he estimated at $150,000 a year — that will be raised from the new office building.
The centerpiece of the agreement reached Friday was the Center for Applied Innovation, which will provide analytical help for industries and colleges to identify skills needed in the workplace.
"It’s about getting from graduation to paycheck much more efficiently," said Cameron Art, IBM’s general manager for application management services. "And, in 24 months, we will have something new. You can more quickly respond to the market."
Gov. Nikki Haley and Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, praised the center as a way to better prepare a more tech-savvy workforce.
“Creative partnerships like this represent a new way of doing business while seeking increased opportunity for students and will, ultimately, enable our state to attract and retain the best talent in the country,” Leatherman said in a statement.
The research center also will work with businesses on solutions to save time and money. IBM already is working on projects at USC, including one trying to improve the mechanics in the U.S. Army’s Apache helicopters. Plans include working in the business-, computing- and health-related fields, though projects could stretch university wide, including digital archives.
IBM declined to say how much it would earn with agreements from companies looking for help from the technology center.
Fluor, whose chief executive, David Seaton, heads USC’s $1 billion fundraising campaign, will test the work developed at the center and consult with IBM and the university on industry trends.
In addition to research opportunities, IBM will:
• Oversee USC’s computer systems as part of a 10-year, $70-million contract that starts in January. The company will bring in 100 employees. Sixty 60 USC technology employees also will switch to work IBM, making the contract revenue neutral.
• Offer internships for USC students and research opportunities for faculty
• Bring technology to provide individualized teaching programs that the tech giant has piloted in a suburban Atlanta school district. The program could help students learn better by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and help keep them in school through graduation, university officials said. USC will launch a pilot of the teaching program next fall and hopes to offer it campus wide by 2016, IBM officials said.
The new research center will be housed in existing university buildings until Holder Properties opens the office tower in 2016.
After the building opens, USC will receive $72,600 a year in rent from the office building as well as 15 percent of its profit. The school has the right to rent a third of the office space in the 120,000-square-foot building.