An improving economy has reignited interest in the commercial real estate marketplace.

Arming students with the necessary tools to make a career in real estate, especially real-world experience, is one of the charging orders for Elaine Worzala, director of the Carter Real Estate Center at the College of Charleston School of Business.

“I have to make sure the students are learning the right things and they get the great experience when they do internships,” Worzala said. “This center is the bridge between the industry and the classroom. The center provides the ability to get industry folks in the classroom and students out into the field.”

The Carter Real Estate Center was established in 2005 with contributions from Ben Carter, president of Ben Carter Enterprises in Atlanta, and the Carter Family.

The center provides support for the commercial real estate program in the School of Business. It focuses on working closely with the commercial real estate industry, providing access for student learning opportunities including internships, guest speakers, and professional associations.

Earlier this year, Worzala joined the Real Estate Center. She also teaches real estate investments as part of the undergraduate real estate concentration.

Previously, she was a professor of real estate at Clemson University’s School of Business and director of the Richard H. Pennell Center for Real Estate Development.

Worzala has a doctorate in real estate and urban land economics and a master’s in real estate appraisal and investment analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has also served as the president of the American Real Estate Society and the International Real Estate Society. She’s currently serving as a board member for both organizations.

Worzala was tapped to lead the center due to her involvement in many organizations and passion for making the center one of the best in the nation, said Alan T. Shao, dean of the School of Business.

“I could just feel her excitement about being able to create this commercial real estate center where the business community and academia hold hands,” he said. “She did that at Clemson and she is surrounded by a much more vibrant community here in Charleston.”

Real-world experience

Worzala said she is looking to bolster relations between students and professionals in the real estate industry, especially those in the Lowcountry. She said Charleston’s burgeoning commercial landscape, in addition to headquarters for developers such as multifamily developer GreyStar makes the region an ideal backdrop for students to learn through hands-on experience.

The region is also swelling with new commercial real estate developments thanks to corporations such as Boeing and Google expanding footprints, Worzala said.

“This is an incredible real estate laboratory for myself, the faculty and the students,” Worzala said.

Worzala added that she’s hoping to tap local companies for mentorships, events and other involvement in the Real Estate Center. The efforts are already proving successful with students working with names such as Charleston-based developer PrimeSouth Group, Worzala said.

PrimeSouth is involved in several high-profile downtown commercial projects, including the renovation of 526-528 King St. for retail space and the redevelopment of 466 King for the future corporate headquarters for software company PeopleMatter.

Worzala said that in her short tenure, she’s also helped the school gain more tools in classrooms.

That includes Houston-based ARGUS Software Inc., recently donating a program valued at $440,000 to help students learn how to analyze real estate investments.

Officials have said the gift will help students calculate the value of a property with multiple leases. It also will run the numbers on a project that is under development over a period of time.

Worzala said the tools are helpful since they’re used by working professionals.

“Most major real estate companies, financial institutions, appraisers, investors, developers and contractors that use institutional capital apply this software when analyzing investment opportunities,” she said.

Shao said such tools fit within the school’s “shovel-ready” idea that arms students with real-life experience in a career.

“We want to continue to break the boundaries of academics and make the business community part of our learning laboratory,” he said.

Moving forward

Worzala said she has plans to broaden the center’s curriculum to working professionals who are looking to grow their expertise in specific parts of the real estate marketplace.

That includes ideas such as certification programs, she said.

“This will help the current people and help them re-educate themselves,” she said. “This could be for those who jumped into the market years ago and now they’re getting stuff that they don’t know how to do.”

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.