Greenville faced a daunting problem in 1963. Federal officials had announced the closure of Donaldson Air Force base, located a few miles south of downtown in rural Greenville County. The 2,500-acre military base had been a major employer in the community for decades, and the looming shutdown would leave Greenville with a virtual ghost-town of shuttered facilities, creating a huge hole in the area’s economy.
Local elected officials and business leaders developed a bold plan to purchase the entire base from the federal government, and redevelop it for aviation and industry. While that may sound obvious today, it was an innovative and risky approach in 1963. By the following year, city and county officials had convinced four local banks to loan them $450,000 to purchase the land and improvements, leaving taxpayers to repay the loan. The gamble paid off, as the loan was repaid in less than six months. The South Carolina Technology & Aviation Center (SCTAC) was born of this innovative public-private partnership.
Fifty years later, SCTAC has become a powerhouse statewide economic engine, home to 99 companies with annual economic impact of $2 billion! Our unique combination of 1,400 airfield acres and 1,200 acres of prime industrial property has attracted a diverse group of technology, military, educational and advanced manufacturing operations.
Ninety percent of jobs and direct economic impact of the facility comes from companies that use cutting-edge technology in their operations, have research labs and/or facilities on site or supply products and services to high-tech industries.
Since our inception in 1964, our local economy has emerged into a global economy. Fifty years later, we are engaged in four distinct programs of work, creating a powerful and unique combination of economic opportunity for our citizens: Airport Operations, Property Management, Economic Development and the International Transportation Innovation Center.
Donaldson Field at SCTAC is the largest general aviation airport in the state, with more than 40,000 aircraft operations per year. Our aviation companies, including global giant Lockheed Martin, provide aircraft maintenance and repair, fuel and supplies, flight charters, hangar rentals, and other aviation services.
The South Carolina Army Air National Guard has a visionary plan to develop an Aviation Center of Excellence at SCTAC with an investment of $60 million and creating 150 jobs. The Aviation Support Facility was completed in April with plans to construct a new field maintenance shop and readiness center early next year. The campus will house Greenville Tech’s Aircraft Maintenance School, a workforce training program meeting the needs of the aerospace industry in the Upstate.
SCTAC serves as landlord to 37 tenant companies and the property management team maintains hundreds of acres of common area and Donaldson Field’s 1,400 acres. These operations are essential to our organization, as we are 100 percent dependent upon lease revenues to fund our operations. We receive no tax dollars from either the city of Greenville or the county of Greenville.
Over the last five years, SCTAC has embarked upon a comprehensive strategy to compete for jobs and capital investment in today’s global economy. The most obvious element of this strategy was the 2008 rebranding from Donaldson Center Industrial Air Park to the SC Technology and Aviation Center, which accurately describes the high-tech businesses that operate within the center, embraces our unique position within South Carolina and leverages the state’s strong international reputation as “just right” for business.
In addition, we have taken steps to equip our economic development allies (Greenville Chamber of Commerce, GADC, Upstate Alliance and the SC Department of Commerce) with a stronger product to market and sell. Over the past five years, new investments and existing industry expansions in the park have added $500 million in economic impact.
SCTAC recently converted a closed runway into an automotive test track, breathing new economic life into an aviation asset that had stood idle for nearly 50 years. The International Transportation Innovation Center (ITIC) boasts 350 acres of testing infrastructure, including two miles of newly-resurfaced asphalt and concrete straightaways and an urban track landscape.
In 2015, SCTAC, CU-ICAR, Oak Ridge National Lab, Toyota, Duke Energy and other industry partners will perform wireless charging testing in support of a $12 million grant award from the United States Department of Energy. The development of ITIC promises unlimited opportunity for connected vehicle research and clean transportation technologies.
The vision of elected officials and business leaders 50 years ago was the first step in creating the economic development engine today called SCTAC. We are proud to call South Carolina home and look forward to attracting high-paying and high-tech jobs for South Carolinians for years to come.
Jody Bryson is president and CEO of the SC Technology & Aviation Center. For more information go to www.sc-tac.com.