NEWS THAT the University of South Carolina will partner with Fluor Corp. and IBM to develop a research center is a welcome shot in the arm for Innovista.
The research campus that many understandably believe will transform our state’s economy has struggled to gain momentum due to the weak economy, poor management and bad decision-making. The private portion of the campus has struggled mightily because of an inability to find someone who could get it off the ground.
How bad has it been? In 2009 the university had to pay off a developer who had accomplished nothing. USC officials made a tremendous mistake in selecting a Detroit developer to build the first two private buildings to house businesses that were expected to be spawned by the work of world-class researchers. The contractor couldn’t secure financing for the buildings and had a felony tax-evasion conviction, notable business failures and a history of evading his responsibilities.
Because of its struggles and heavy reliance on state and local tax dollars, critics labeled Innovista a boondoggle. While we’ve been concerned about the painfully slow progress, this effort is hardly a waste. It’s a smart attempt by USC to transform our state’s economy. This is about more than a collection of new-age buildings. It’s a forward-thinking idea that will take decades to materialize.
That said, there must be tangible evidence of real progress, which is what the research center provides.
The center boasts projects to help companies save time and money and build skills for technology jobs. IBM already is working on projects at USC, including one to improve the mechanics in the U.S. Army’s Apache helicopters. IBM also will work with USC in overseeing the university’s computer systems and offering internships for USC students and research opportunities for faculty. Fluor will test the work developed at the center and consult with IBM and the university on industry trends.
This good news is particularly encouraging when you consider that Holder Properties, a private developer, is building a $25 million office tower on USC property at Blossom and Assembly streets, next to one of Innovista’s academic halls. IBM and Fluor will be major tenants in the Holder building once it opens in 2016. Until then, the research center will be housed in buildings USC owns. Holder Properties also is partnering with USC to build an apartment complex behind the Carolina Coliseum.
While certainly a challenging endeavor, Innovista has the potential to launch us into the economic, academic and research stratosphere. But USC officials must manage it smartly and responsibly.
This recent flurry of public-private partnerships is encouraging after significant public dollars have been poured into the research campus with little corresponding private investment.
Although public investment is necessary to prime the pump, the campus won’t truly take off until private investors begin pumping their own money into Innovista.