Clemson University cited as national leader in economic development
CLEMSON — Clemson University is among 12 universities nationwide that have been cited for helping drive economic growth at a time when more states are looking to their higher-education institutions to create jobs and investment.
The university has expanded research and development, enhanced instructional programs and adopted a “daring and novel” mission in a “relatively short” 15 years, according to the new book, “Innovation U 2.0: Reinventing University Roles in a Knowledge Economy.”
The authors, Louis Tornatzky and Elaine Rideout, called Clemson an “enlightening example” that continued its progress even as the last recession hit South Carolina particularly hard.
They cited Clemson’s 2020 Roadmap, fundraising campaign, leadership, partnerships with industry and willingness to collaborate across disciplines.
Rideout said in an interview Clemson has broken down silos that have traditionally separated departments within universities and reorganized around emphasis areas that align with the state’s economic development priorities.
“That’s where the world is going, and I would say Clemson has figured that out probably before most other universities,” she said. “It was an intelligent example of a university working hand-in-hand with the public sector, trying to create jobs and improve the quality of life for the people of South Carolina.”
“Innovation U 2.0” is about how technological innovation, entrepreneurship and business partnerships happen at the 12 universities. A guiding premise was to identify the best policies and practices that other universities could adopt.
Clemson University President James P. Clements said that while some of the university’s leadership has changed since the book’s writing, economic development and student success in the workplace remain top priorities.
“We’re focusing on some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges,” he said. “It’s critical that we partner with industry and programs like SmartState.”
The authors found that 6.8 percent of Clemson’s research expenditures came from industry, while the national average is 4.8 percent. They argued that industry funding “favors real world innovation.”
Tornatzky said in an interview he found it encouraging that Clemson was figuring out “how to be bigger and better” just as the last recession was hitting South Carolina particularly hard. Even with the recession over, the Clemson example still offers lessons for other universities, he said.
“One of the themes we tried to draw out was the role of leadership,” he said. “Clemson had some amazing leadership during that period, and I assume it still does.”
Other case studies in the book involved Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, the Caltech, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Tech, MIT, North Carolina State University, Purdue University, Stanford University, the University of Florida and University of Utah.
The authors found that “the most significant partnerships between Clemson and state government have been embodied in the SmartState program.”
The program dispenses state lottery money on a matching basis to fund research centers and endowed professorships, also known as chairs, at the state’s three research universities.
Clemson now has 12 centers and five chairs supported by the SmartState program. Money distributed through the program targets key areas: advanced materials and nanotechnology, automotive and transportation, biomedical, Future Fuels, information science and pharmaceutical.
State Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said investment in SmartState distinguishes South Carolina and helps attract new industry and jobs.
“By investing in programs that apply academic research to industry needs, we’re positioning South Carolina to better compete in the global economy,” he said.
The book’s authors also noted that Clemson has established large research-and-development facilities that are spread across the state, most far from the main campus, in places where residents and businesses need them most.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said the faculty and students at the university’s four “innovation campuses” excel in partnering with industry to turn research into real-world products. The concept is known as “translational research.”
“The partnerships with industry make our curricula highly relevant, which gives our graduates an advantage when they begin their careers,” he said. “At the same time, industry gets fresh ideas from our students. It’s a win-win.”
The four innovation campuses are the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville, the Advanced Materials Research Center in Anderson County and the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Campus in Greenville.
The university’s overarching economic-development philosophy will remain the same under new leadership, said John Ballato, who was named Clemson’s vice president for economic development in March.
“There is more than $600 million in investment in our innovation campuses, and they will only become more connected to main campus and be stronger economic drivers for South Carolina as a result,” he said.
The book’s Clemson chapter also cited:
- The 2020 Road Map’s emphasis on economic growth and making a difference through technological innovation.
- The Will to Lead campaign, which surpassed its $600-million goal and upped the amount to $1 billion.
- The Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, including its MBA programs in Greenville.
- Clemson University Research Foundation’s growing role in patenting and licensing inventions so that technology can be used in business and industry.
The book is serving as the foundation for a conference at Research Triangle Park in Durham, N.C., June 24 and 25. For more information, go to
Conference and book sponsors include the National Science Foundation; the William R. Kenan Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science; the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; the North Carolina Office of Science and Technology; the State Science and Technology Institute; the Information Technology Innovation Foundation; the Southern Governors Association; and the Research Triangle Park Foundation.