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Kirkland Shows How IBM, USC, Flour Partnership Will Benefit Midlands at January Breakfast

January 14, 2015 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

Bill Kirkland

Bill Kirkland, Executive Director of USC's Office of Economic Engagement, addressed the crowd at the Greater Lexington Chamber's monthly breakfast on Tuesday morning, discussing an exciting new partnership between USC and IBM.

Kirkland, who is a former IBM executive, spoke about the partnership that will create the Center for Applied Innovation, which promises to create hundreds of jobs and many benefits for the Midlands.

The Center will initially be housed in existing facilities on USC’s campus before moving to a new building that will be built in the Innovista Research District. Ground breaking will be in about two months for the $26 million office building, which will be located on the corner of Blossom Street and Assembly Street across from the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center.

Fluor Corporation, a multinational engineering and construction firm headquartered in Texas, will be advisers and join IBM in the Center.

“When you come across the bridge from Cayce and see the top of this building, you’re going to see IBM, possibly Fluor and possibly Boeing across the top,” Kirkland said. “How cool is that when you’re coming from the airport, and you see an IBM presence on our campus?”

Kirkland credits USC President Dr. Harris Pastides with initiating the partnership.

“Dr. Harris Pastides wanted to look at how to make the university relevant in the business community,” said Kirkland, who recently joined the Chamber’s board of directors. “He put the deal together. I supported it and presented it.”

During his presentation, Kirkland made some comparisons with other university-based centers, including one at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and one in Lansing, Michigan at Michigan State.

“Louisiana gave $72 million in cash to get IBM to put a center like what we’re going to have in Columbia,” said Kirkland, who also noted the city of Baton Rouge gave incentives totaling about $3 million.

In comparison, the City of Columbia “put about $300,000 toward the next three years just helping them get moved into their building. Other than that, there were no other incentives, no other money,” according to Kirkland.

“Now this is a unique deal. We leveraged the University of South Carolina and our assets, working with a partner like IBM that wants to work with those assets and these students, and we leveraged all of that,” he said. “It took about 14 months to get it put together properly for us to move forward.”

Moving forward, the center will create hundreds of jobs if the success of the centers in Louisiana and Michigan are any indication. About 500 people are involved at the center in Michigan, and the center has only been open for about four years.

“That’s 500 jobs at the center and about 1200 indirect jobs. That’s the impact on the city of Lansing,” Kirkland said. “If you look at what IBM is doing here, they have 100 net new jobs. That’s what they committed to commerce. If we do like Lansing and Baton Rouge, it should be over 500 within three years.”

Those will be technology jobs, paying around $50,000 to $60,000 per year, quite a boost for the Midlands economy.

“IBM is bringing the tools and methods. They’re bringing things to USC and to this center, where we’re going to collaborate in the research center,” Kirkland said. “It opens up new markets and new capabilities for the university, and also for folks in the Midlands.”

The January breakfast was sponsored by South Carolina National Safety Council and catered by Crescent Moon.