Presidents and vice presidents from some of South Carolina’s most influential companies gathered in Greenville this fall for an unprecedented forum on how Clemson University can best partner with industry to meet the needs of its advanced manufacturers.
University officials are now working to create the research, education and outreach partnerships that will ensure advanced manufacturing remains successful in the state for years to come.
Clemson University President James P. Clements said the number of high-level executives who participated underscores the importance of higher education to the success of advanced manufacturing in South Carolina and beyond.
“Higher education plays an important role in moving new technologies to the marketplace and in creating a well-qualified workforce,” he said. “This forum provided a great opportunity to establish a dialogue with some of the state’s most influential advanced-manufacturing leaders. We look forward to continuing an important conversation that will ultimately lead to new and improved programs, helping promote job creation and economic growth.”
The forum was the latest in a series of Clemson efforts to support and accelerate advanced manufacturing. The organizing force behind those efforts is the Clemson University Center for Advanced Manufacturing, led by director Mark Johnson.
For states along the Interstate 85 corridor, manufacturing is a cornerstone of a combined $1.9 trillion regional economy, accounting for more than 1.57 million jobs in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
South Carolina alone has 239,500 manufacturing jobs, which is 11.7 percent of nonfarm employment, the association found.
Ideas to ensure future success ranged from more internships, co-ops and diversity to a greater emphasis on data analytics and artificial intelligence. Several of the executives said they were up against tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, in competition for computer-savvy employees.
Even as technology rapidly changes manufacturing, several of the executives agreed that human beings will remain the most important component for success. Flor said BMW has hired 150 Clemson graduates since building its Greer plant, the largest in the company’s network.
“We have very, very good experience with this, but we need to come to the next higher level because we want to be the benchmark in production,” Flor said. “For this reason, we need the best people, and this is why we are here.”
Dochul Choi, senior vice president, global business and technology strategy, Samsung Electronics America, said Samsung believes it is innovation and university partnership that will help ensure success at its home-appliance manufacturing facility that opened in 2017 in Newberry.
“This is serious business we’re talking about,” he said. “We have committed to investing $380 million over the next several years and have already hired and trained 650 employees. But to reach our full potential, we are going to continue to invest and will need a strong and competent workforce.”
Scott Clark, chairman and president of Michelin North America, asked educators to help market manufacturing, which he described as dynamic, clean, safe and automated. He called on educators to go beyond teaching technical skills and to help prepare students for a fast-paced environment that requires collaboration. Educators can also help create a more diverse workforce, Clark said.
“We need that because our customers are diverse. We need it to win. Make sure that you’re bringing diversity into your institutions so that we have access to diversity.”
The ways big data, artificial intelligence and other technology are changing manufacturing emerged as a key theme.