GREENVILLE — The cutting-edge research and world-class education that are helping South Carolina play a leading role in the nation’s manufacturing revival took center stage Friday when U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker visited the Clemson University-International Center for Automotive Research.
Her visit included a private roundtable discussion about developing a qualified workforce and came as expanding automotive and tire companies heighten the state’s importance in manufacturing.
John Ballato, Clemson’s vice president for economic development, said that the state has continued to attract companies, while also providing a steady supply of technicians, engineers and scientists through its technical college and higher education systems
“A key to that is us listening to industry needs and creating the curriculum, internships, apprenticeships and other engagement experiences that best prepare future employees with the skill set that industry needs,” Ballato said.
The partnership between industry and the state’s education systems is best characterized by CU-ICAR’s automotive engineering program, said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science.
“We have taken industry input to develop the next generation of engineers and one such example of this effort is the Deep Orange concept vehicle project,” he said.
Pritzker’s visit included a tour of CU-ICAR. After leaving, she headed for BMW in Greer for its expansion announcement.
During Pritzker’s visit, CU-ICAR Executive Director Frederick Cartwright showcased the center’s unique partnerships between government and industry.
“It’s an honor,” Cartwright said. “It’s very prestigious to have someone at that level come. I think it’s an acknowledgement of what we’ve done to date.”
The roundtable discussion with Pritzker included several industry and education leaders from across the state.
“CU-ICAR is a tremendous example of an educational institution conducting the type of leading-edge research that will keep America competitive in the 21st Century and also working directly with industry to train workers for in-demand, high-skilled jobs,” said Pritzker.
“These industry-driven models are exactly what we need to replicate nationwide to promote economic growth. The Department of Commerce is committed to partnering with businesses and other federal agencies to help facilitate similar research and training programs around the country.”
Roundtable topics included apprenticeships, what skills employers need, how training aligns with the region’s economic growth and how workforce development systems and employers ensure training leads to jobs in demand.
The discussion was co-sponsored by CU-ICAR and the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.
Kris Frady, director of operations for the Center for Workforce Development, said the roundtable is part of the university’s broader mission to encourage economic development.
“Part of Clemson’s role is making connections between those in the state who are focused on advancing workforce development, ” she said. “One strength of the Clemson Center for Workforce Development is in building that network.”
Pritzker’s tour of CU-ICAR included the Center for Emerging Technologies, a 60,000-square-foot facility with lab, office and administrative space.
“Startup companies and more mature companies are taking advantage of being part of the automotive ecosystem on the CU-ICAR campus,” Cartwright said.
The visit was a chance to show Pritzker how Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants have supported CU-ICAR and the state’s economy. The EDA, which is part of the Commerce Department, helped fund the Center for Emerging Technologies building.
“We appreciate the Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Administration’s support of us to date and look forward to continuing this valuable partnership in the future,” Cartwright said.