SCRA Growth Spurt Continues Unabated

April 29, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveLike a hungry tick on a fat hound, the S.C. Research Authority can’t stop growing.

In an expansion frenzy that would make famed financier T. Boone Pickens proud, the state-created economic development entity enjoyed a very busy 2009.

It moved forward on several new facilities, was given a sizeable chunk of land for a new technology park in Richland County and took over South Carolina’s biotechnology incubator.

Consider SCRA’s milestones last year:

  • Last fall, SC BIO, also known as the S.C. Biotechnology Incubation Program, was merged into SCRA’s Advanced Technology Institute. SCRA retained SC BIO’s Greenwood facility;
  • In July, the state transferred 110 acres of land in Richland County to SCRA, property the Research Authority plans to use in conjunction with the county to build a 196-acre technology park;
  • Also in July, the Research Authority closed on the purchase of its $5.6 million, 78,000-square-foot SCRA USC Innovation Center in Columbia. Groundbreaking was held earlier this year;
  • It continued forward with plans for a $4.5 million, 18,000-square-foot Clemson SCRA Research and Innovation Center;
  • In April, SCRA and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory signed a memorandum of understanding to explore collaborative opportunities in applied research, commercialization and knowledge-based economic development.
  • In March, SCRA held a groundbreaking ceremony in Charleston for the $6 million, 13,000-square-foot SCRA MUSC Innovation Center. That site opened in December.

The Research Authority’s growth also is witnessed in the agency’s revenue, which has increased dramatically over the years and is on target to exceed the SCRA’s expectations this year.

The Research Authority originally planned for $115.2 million in gross revenue for the current fiscal year.

But at an SCRA board meeting last week in Columbia, Research Authority CEO Bill Mahoney told the board that the projected amount now is $147.5 million.

That’s $32.3 million, or 28 percent, more than the initial total.

SCRA was created in 1983 by the General Assembly, which gave the entity $500,000 and about 1,400 acres of undeveloped state land, estimated at that time to be worth $10.7 million. Of that, it has since sold at least 480 acres for more than $12.7 million.

As The Nerve reported recently, the state agency is one of the most lucrative places to work in government in the Palmetto State.

Of approximately 200 individuals SCRA employs, more than half earn $50,000 or more annually; fully 96 make $60,000 or more; 46 bring home $100,000 or more; and 12 earn in excess of $150,000, according to the State Salary Database.

The creation of the three new research centers was mandated by the General Assembly in 2005 to help budding companies leverage work being done at the state’s major institutions.

The idea behind the Innovation Centers: Attract tenant companies that commercialize research at USC, MUSC and Clemson.

The Nerve visited the Charleston facility in March, at which point it had a handful of tenants, including a police department substation.

SC BIO was launched by state officials in 2001 with the construction of a $3.5 million state-funded incubator in Greenwood.

In addition to funding its initial startup, SC BIO had received financial assistance from the General Assembly over the years. In FY 2007-08, the South Carolina Biotechnology Incubation Program received $200,000 from the General Assembly.

Also, a proviso in the FY 2009-10 budget called for the incubator to receive up to $285,000 in excess revenue collected by the Department of Revenue if available.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.