May 15

From April 24 – 26, a group of nearly 75 faculty members from the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, and the Medical University of South Carolina known as the SmartState Council of Chairs will gather in Charleston to celebrate 10 years of leading South Carolina’s economic renaissance. UofSC President Harris Pastides reflects on this impressive milestone.

Who would imagine that University of South Carolina (UofSC) faculty members would be the catalysts for taking the State of South Carolina from an “also ran” to an economic powerhouse? 

That’s exactly what happened when state lawmakers created the SmartState Program in 2002 to award funding to UofSC, Clemson, and MUSC for the purpose of recruiting world-class researchers and scientists to their campuses.

This was not a free handout. Lawmakers had two stipulations. The universities had to recruit people who would develop new technologies, launch startups, teach and mentor students, and ultimately, create job opportunities. And, they had to find corporations and private organizations to invest as co-sponsors in the SmartState Endowed Chairs.

It seemed like an impossibly high bar, but not to UofSC President Harris Pastides, who at the time was vice president of research. In fact, he saw the SmartState Program as an incredible opportunity for universities to lift up the Palmetto State in new ways.

“Our faculty has always been the foundation of our university. The SmartState Program gave us the ability to build on what we had by recruiting elite individuals and their research labs in cutting edge areas like hydrogen fuel cells, nanotechnology, materials science, and health informatics. South Carolina was the only state in the nation with a program like this and people took notice,” recalled Pastides.

Recruiting sponsors was easier than anticipated. Although time-consuming to find the right fit between sponsor and researcher, interest in the SmartState Program was strong. The reason? Research fuels innovation and that attracts investment. Pastides points to two examples.

“Early on we recruited Dr. Brian Benicewitz as the SmartState Endowed Chair in polymer nanocomposites, an area industry is very interested in. We found a sponsor willing to invest $3 million and the state invested another $3 million. Then something interesting happened; more sponsors appeared. Today, Dr. Benicewitz’ research is supported by Michelin, BASF and the U.S. Navy and the original investment has been exceeded by $18.5 million.”

The second example is the SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality, which sought to use a statewide clinical data warehouse and health informatics to support research and improve public health in South Carolina through research.

“We recruited Jay Moskowitz from the National Institutes of Health as the SmartState Endowed Chair in Healthcare Quality. Jay’s vision attracted the support of The Duke Endowment, which eventually invested more than $40 million dollars in IT infrastructure and initiatives at UofSC, Clemson, MUSC and health systems across the state. Eventually, North Carolina’s research universities joined our efforts, which amplified what we were doing,” he said.

Pastides credits the SmartState Program with opening the doors to sustainable partnerships with companies like Boeing, IBM, Fluor, General Atomics, and the Savannah River Site that value UofSC not just for research, but also as a source of employees and executive training.

One SmartState Program benefit that Pastides didn’t anticipate was a major shift between in-state rivals. “It used to be the only time Carolina and Clemson were in the same place was on game day. Thanks to the SmartState Program, we’re now collaborators rather than competitors. This has made South Carolina far more competitive on the national stage in terms of economic and educational competitiveness.”

Today, the SmartState Program has nearly 75 Endowed Chairs. Of these, UofSC is home to 25 of these economic catalysts. Laura B. Cardinal, the SmartState Endowed Chair in Innovation + Commercialization, who is working to connect more companies with the intellectual capital of the SmartState Program, is the newest addition.

On the eve of the SmartState Council of Chairs’ celebration, Pastides sends these good wishes:

“Thank you for your rigor and for making our universities and state better. We could not have done it without you!”