Collaborative innovation attracts foreign-direct investment


ABOVE: John Lummus, president & CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance ]

Foreign-direct investment in the Upstate’s economy has grown tremendously since 1991, resulting in production efficiencies and an associated wage increase that requires the region’s economic developers to define a new value proposition when recruiting industries.

“We used to sell the fact that we were low-cost, low-wage — we are not that anymore. We are a center of advanced manufacturing, technology and innovation,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance, last week to 40 members of InnoVision, an organization dedicated to advancing technology in South Carolina.

The Upstate SC Alliance was formed in 2000 to position and market the Upstate globally for business investment.

In late 2013, the Upstate of South Carolina was selected for the Global Cities Initiative (GCI), a program that strives to develop practical knowledge, policy ideas and networks needed so that participating regions become more globally connected and competitive.

Elizabeth Feather, director of research with the Upstate SC Alliance

Increasing foreign-direct investment in the Upstate


A component of the GCI work, the Upstate SC Regional Foreign Direct Investment Plan, was launched in March to elevate the Upstate’s global competitiveness and empower its companies and citizens to seize opportunities in the global economy.

Benefits to increasing foreign-direct investment include that foreign-owned firms pay higher wages and invest greater amounts into research and development than domestic-owned firms, said Elizabeth Feather, director of research for the Upstate SC Alliance.

Plan strategies and tactics include

1. Forging collaborative partnerships throughout the Upstate region

2. Building a global reputation for the Upstate’s advanced materials cluster

3. Boosting the competitiveness of existing Upstate industries

4. Growing the region’s industrial and technology service sectors

5. Leveraging all assets to attract top labor talent to the Upstate


Collaborative innovation as a competitive edge


“Our economy is changing,” Feather said. “We always have been blessed with our location, our access to the port, and the inland port added new capability there — but the real game-changer has been in the last 20 years, as Clemson University has really stepped up and said ‘We want to be a Top 20 university,’ and part of that process was building out these innovation campuses.”

Increasingly, Lummus said, foreign and domestic industrial prospects are drawn to the region’s public-private partnerships, where industry needs drive academic research, such as Greenville Health System’s planned IMED Innovation Corridor, the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC), the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research and the Greenwood Genetics Center.

“In a lot of cases it’s because of foreign-direct investment, because of companies like BMW and Michelin that come in with a set of strategies, policies about the way that they do business. They’re operating on a global scale, and that kind of ability to move forward in your production levels and get the most out of your teams automatically gets infused into your market,” Feather said. “And once they do it, everybody starts doing it, and what that ultimately leads to is more efficient production and higher wage rates.”

Foreign-owned industries, such as BMW and Michelin, also provided initial financial support to establish these collaborative campuses, and their continued support connects students and researchers with industry trends, issues and goals.

As foreign-owned companies succeed in the Upstate and collaborative research continues, there is opportunity to align resources by industry clusters — working with multiple companies within one sector to understand its needs and opportunities — and then to connect Upstate clusters to other markets worldwide.

The movement toward open technology and innovation, where companies seek ideas and solutions from external sources, also presents opportunities to expand the business presence of Upstate firms into other markets.

More on InnoVision

Now in its 18th year of celebrating innovation, InnoVision is the premier awards organization that honors the world-class achievements of businesses, educational institutions and governmental entities throughout the state of South Carolina. The InnoVision program supports innovation through two activities: educational InnoVision Forums that are held throughout the year and the annual InnoVision Awards Banquet.

The 2016 Awards banquet will be Nov. 3, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Greenville. There, InnoVision will recognize winners from across South Carolina in six categories: Technology Development, Technology Integration, Community Service, Sustainability, Education and Small Enterprise. InnoVision will also honor visionaries with the Young Innovator Award and the Charles Townes Lifetime Achievement Award.

For more information about the 2016 Awards Dinner or to sponsor a table, contact Angela Halpin, executive coordinator for InnoVision, at




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