The Upstate of South Carolina and the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research represent a model of cluster-based economic development, according to a report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
The report, “Rethinking Cluster Initiatives,” explores the concept of industry clusters — groups of firms that gain a competitive advantage through local proximity and interdependence — and offers guidance for metropolitan leaders considering investments in cluster initiatives, according to a news release.
Applied research, collaborative partnerships and K-12 engagement were noted as successes for the Upstate and CU-ICAR.
The automotive case study explores the Upstate’s concentration of 223 automotive-related companies and 22,000 employees, anchored by BMW Manufacturing Co., and says these companies are bolstered by CU-ICAR, which offers an advanced degree in automotive engineering and partners with automotive companies to conduct shared research projects, the release said.
“CU-ICAR’s rise has coincided with a continued expansion of the automotive cluster in Upstate South Carolina,” Joseph Parilla, one of the report’s co-authors, said in the release. “CU-ICAR is particularly notable for its use of industry-endowed professorships in key technologies related to the automotive industry and its rigorous, applied learning program to train students. For leaders in other regions and states, CU-ICAR offers an example of how a major research university, state government, and industry can co-invest in a shared asset that can differentiate a cluster from its competitors.”
The report also discusses collaborative partnerships with K-12 educational institutions, such as the All Girls Auto Know program in partnership with the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum and a partnership with Fisher Middle School, the STEAM school located at CU-ICAR’s Millennium Campus. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.
"South Carolina's reputation for automotive excellence is the result of decades of hard work by talented, dedicated teams. With new strategic initiatives in advanced manufacturing, CU-ICAR will continue to help drive that success for years to come with our focus on strong public-private partnerships, cutting-edge research, and exemplary automotive engineering graduates," Nick Rigas, CU-ICAR executive director, said in the release.
According to the report’s authors, regions grow based on their ability to provide environments where firms want to cluster and concentrate, and therefore cluster initiatives offer one justifiable foundation to lay long-term economic development strategies. They also acknowledge that implementing cluster initiatives is a challenge that requires significant institutional and financial commitment, alongside strong public-private partnerships.
“Our region has grown exponentially since BMW located its facility in Spartanburg decades ago, and organizations across the region embraced the change with a collaborative spirit and willingness to partner with industries to provide talent and solutions at every turn, such as CU-ICAR,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance. “It is an honor for Brookings to showcase our region as a model for other areas.”
According to Upstate SC Alliance, the automotive industry is growing in every county in the Upstate. In 2016, new and existing automotive companies announced more than $621 million in capital investment in the region.