Building knowledge economy requires local networking

By C. Grant Jackson
Senior Vice President/Community Development
Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

You have to connect a lot of dots to create a knowledge economy.

In Columbia, those dots include a host of individuals and organizations that have been working, many of them for years, to build an economy that is driven by research and innovation and that creates high-growth, high-wage industries.

One of those dots is IT-oLogy, the organization birthed out of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina’s realization that the company needed to build its information technology talent pool.

But, BlueCross decided not just to focus on solving its own problem, but rather to address it across the Southeast. Collaborating with the University of South Carolina and IBM, the partners created the Consortium for Enterprise Systems Management, later rebranded IT-oLogy. The non-profit collaboration now includes more than 30 college and university partners, and a multiplicity of corporate and other partners “dedicated to growing the IT talent pipeline, fostering economic development and advancing the IT profession.”

At last month’s Palmetto Pillar Awards, an annual celebration of technology companies and technologists by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Information Technology Council, IT-oLogy received the first annual Palmetto Pillar Award of Excellence.

The honoree is chosen by the ITC Advisory Council. The award recognizes “a company or individual that is going above and beyond to improve the IT culture and understanding in Famously Hot Columbia, S.C.”

The chamber’s ITC, a membership-based advocacy IT organization, works “to create awareness, to provide professional development and networking opportunities and to recognize the achievement of those in the IT community.”

In his acceptance remarks, IT-oLogy Executive Director Lonnie Emard paid homage to the collaboration that is going on in Columbia. He noted that the knowledge economy has really gained a foothold in the region thanks to the collaborative work of organizations like IT-oLogy, the ITC, iTsSC and others. A few years ago, that could not have been said. We are working together to build a pipeline of IT talent and companies.

A look at two other Palmetto Pillar  recipients is a lesson in how the dots leading to the knowledge economy are being connected in the region.

Terry Floyd, managing partner and founder of TM Floyd, received the Palmetto Pillar Leadership in Technology award. TM Floyd is an information technology consulting group focused on healthcare and property and casualty insurance. Started in 1976, TM Floyd has been successful for three decades, but more importantly Terry Floyd has been an advocate for the insurance IT business. iTsSC, Columbia’s Insurance Services and Technology Cluster, can trace its origin to work Floyd headed to create the Columbia Insurance Services Consortium.

iTsSC now represents 10 private companies and five public partners in a collaborative endeavor to grow the industry and promote Columbia as a premier location for insurance technology and services. Insurance technology and services has a nearly $6.7 billion total annual economic impact in the state. The Columbia region employs about 15,000 insurance technology and services professionals at an average annual salary of $62,000.

iTsSC is a New Carolina cluster managed by EngenuitySC. The public/private partnership is another major dot in efforts to develop and grow the region’s knowledge-based economy. Engenuity works to create an “environment where entrepreneurship, innovation and the creation of knowledge are fundamental elements of the Midstate’s culture, identity and economic development strategy.”

On the other end of the spectrum from TM Floyd , 52Apps won the Palmetto Pillar for “Start-Up Venture.” Launched in June of this year, 52Apps, which aims to create a new application for the iPhone or iPad every week, is housed in the USC-Columbia Technology Incubator.

52Apps was started by Brendan Lee and Chris Thibault when they were students at the University of Central Arkansas. Lee is now a computer science student at USC and Thibault, now a Columbia resident, is completing work online for a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

“What they are doing is very cool,” Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneurship and public-policy lecturer at Stanford, Duke and Emory universities, told Bloomberg.com. “The startup scene in South Carolina is very small, but there are sparks of light, and this is one of them.”

The company and the whiz kids who created it landed in Columbia because of another dot: the incubator and its resources, such as entrepreneur in residence Bill Kirkland and connections to USC — especially the College of Engineering and Computing.

Through the effort of organizations like IT-oLogy, the Information Technology Council, iTsSC, the University of South Carolina, the USC-Columbia Technology Incubator and a host of other groups and individuals who are willing to work together collaboratively, we are connecting the dots to the creation of a knowledge economy in the Columbia region.

C. Grant Jackson is senior vice president/community development of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (803) 733-2513 or at gjackson@columbiachamber.com.

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