General Assembly Passes the South Carolina Research Centers of Economic Excellence Act

January 7, 2002

In 2002, the South Carolina General Assembly passed the Research Centers of Economic Excellence Act. The Act appropriated $200 million through 2010 from the South Carolina Education Lottery to establish unique Centers of Economic Excellence at South Carolina’s three senior research institutions: Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina. Each Center of Economic Excellence (CoEE) specializes in unique, knowledge-economy research in fields such as engineering, nanotechnology, biomedical science, and energy science that promote and create enhanced economic opportunities for the state. Today, the program is called the SmartState Program

The Act also created the CoEE Review Board to provide program oversight. The Review Board is composed of nine members: three appointed by the governor; three by the president pro tempore of the Senate; and three by the speaker of the House of Representatives. Membership terms are three years, and individuals may serve three total terms. The presidents of South Carolina’s three research universities also serve as ex officio, non-voting members of the Review Board. Staff and operational support for the Endowed Chairs Program is provided by Commission on Higher Education. The Commission on Higher Education approves the operational budget for the program.

When the Review Board approves a new CoEE, an institution has 18 months in which to solicit non-state (private, federal or municipal) investors to pledge dollar-for-dollar matching of a CoEE’s state award total (between $2 million and $5 million). These matching pledges must be realized within 78 months of a CoEE’s approval date. State funds may only be drawn against realized non-state pledges. The majority of funds are placed in endowments, used to pay the salaries or salary supplements of world-class scientists (endowed chairs) recruited to lead each CoEE, as well as specialized equipment, laboratory construction, other faculty, and research assistants.

Over time, each university has developed concentrated CoEE focus areas. Clemson’s core strengths lay in the area of automotive engineering, optoelectronics and health facility design and testing. USC’s strengths generally fall within the three clusters of future fuels, biomedical sciences and nanotechnology. MUSC’s strengths lie in the biomedical.

One hallmark of the SmartState Program is an almost unprecedented scientific collaboration at the academic level. One-third of the SmartState Centers are research partnerships among South Carolina public institutions, including two four-year comprehensive teaching universities.