Winthrop University’s new president reached out to regional business leaders Friday, seeking relationships that will benefit his students, take advantage of his faculty’s expertise and continue to build a stronger community.
It was one of Dan Mahony’s first public appearances as Winthrop’s 11th president, and the timing was strategic, area business leaders said.
“There is the perception in the community that the only time you see Winthrop is when they want something,” said David Angel, president of Angel Insurance & Financial Services in Rock Hill. “But Mahony wants to integrate the university and the community to work together, that’s what we have been looking for.”
Mahony spoke to about 100 business and community leaders at a lunch sponsored by the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
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Winthrop will continue to play a “key” role in economic development, Mahony said. “We have the capacity to help.”
A major part of that process will be defining what Winthrop’s role is in the development of , the planned residential and technology-based business hub city leaders have touted as the cornerstone of downtown revitalization efforts. The project, planned for the site of the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., is seen as the link between the university and downtown Rock Hill.
Mahony’s previous employer, Kent State University, greatly benefits from its relationship with a revitalized downtown Kent, he said. Mahony represented the university in efforts that built a new parking deck and a hotel, which resulted in businesses returning to downtown Kent.
He also wants to strengthen the university’s relationships with local businesses that can prepare Winthrop students for the working world through internships and mentorships. Winthrop is among the leaders in the state in that area, he said, but it can do more.
Local businesses need to use the expertise of the Winthrop faculty more, Mahony said. An example of that collaboration, he said, was the recently updated study on the potential economic benefits of extending Dave Lyle Boulevard between Rock Hill and the Lancaster County panhandle performed by Laura Ullrich, a Winthrop associate professor of economics, and Lucy Gallo, managing principal with Development Planning & Financing Group Inc.
Such work not only helps the community, he said, it gives faculty members real-world experiences to bring into the classroom.
When Mahony asked the audience for questions, there was a prolonged silence before Angel shouted, “How about football?”
Before she was fired a year ago, Jamie Comstock Williamson, Mahony’s predecessor, held several meetings about whether Winthrop should start a football program. School trustees haven’t formally taken a stance on the issue, and employee and student opinion on Eagle football continues to be divided.
Mahony said the university needs to understand its options, seek input and then make a decision.
“We have talked about this long enough,” he said.