MCDERMOTT COLUMN: Thats Logisitics: South Carolina looks at improving business of moving goods
UPS pulled it off, putting its own spin on the catchy 1950s tune “That’s Amore” to capitalize on one of the wonkiest of business terms: logistics.
South Carolina is now looking to follow the delivery giant’s lead, though no crooning is required.
The state Commerce Department is putting the finishing touches on a plan to churn out more college graduates who are trained in the efficient movement of goods all along the industrial supply chain, from the port to the plant to the marketplace.
While the nitty-gritty details aren’t quite ready for prime time, Commerce Department chief Bobby Hitt outlined the effort last week at an economic conference at the College of Charleston.
Since 2010, Hitt’s cabinet-level office has had the authority to create “endowed chairs,” which involves tapping private money to recruit top-flight academic experts to state-run research schools.
The long-term goal is that talented experts from disciplines such as medicine and biotechnology will create spin-off businesses and spawn good-paying jobs in those highly technical fields.
“I’ve been working with research universities and some of the four-year colleges on a different approach to that,” Hitt said. “One of the things we want to do is create endowed chairs directly connected to the business community. This is done in many parts of the world, but it hasn’t been done as effectively here in the United States as it should be.”
As it wades into this new territory, commerce is “looking at functional areas that would apply to all industries, not just one or the other.”
First stop: logistics.
“We’d like to build centers on advanced materials and advanced manufacturing,” Hitt said. “But this will be the starting place because this is the one that’s common to everything.”
He noted that widget-makers from small businesses to his previous employer, luxury car auto giant BMW, transport all manner of parts and finished products to, from and within South Carolina, whether by sea, land or air.
“It’s something that cuts across aviation, automotive, energy, biotech, you name it,” he said. “Everybody has to deal with that set of issues.”
The effort still is being hashed out, but it will need to be flexible and responsive to fast-changing market conditions to be effective, Hitt said.
“What are the problems we have at different sizes and places on the food chain? And what can we bring together in critical mass from our colleges and universities to focus on problems determined by the business community?”
He said the program will be shaped largely from the bottom up, by the needs of the private sector.
“Not determined by the universities. Not determined by the Commerce Department,” he said.
The logistics push is a natural for a state bent on retaining and recruiting manufacturers, which are paying more and more attention to the timing and location of their shipments.
“It also builds off our expertise with the port.” Hitt said. “It plays into road and rail.”
For those reasons and others, it makes sense to set up the program in the Lowcountry.
“This is the center of the universe in terms of logistics,” he said.
The College of Charleston already offers a logistics program, which Hitt became familiar with while working at BMW in the Upstate. Other companies, including tiremaker Michelin, also use it.
“The college has had a pretty strong focus in logistics here for a number of years now,” he said. “We feel we can build on that.”
Plus, there’s a matter of state pride on the line.
“The other thing is, I’m tired of hearing how good Georgia Tech is at logistics,” Hitt said, half-jokingly. “It’s time we go ahead and show what we can do in South Carolina.”
Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.