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$50M sought for design, construction of Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative facility

Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, Rendering

A rendering of the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative facility, which is planned for the USC Aiken campus.

President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2020 budget blueprint – a visionary document – includes what some call a good omen for a long-awaited and seemingly mercurial Aiken-area project: the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative.

Trump's budget request, now about three weeks old, includes $50 million for the AMC. More specifically, the money, if appropriated, would be used for AMC design and construction.

The AMC at a 30,000-foot level represents a partnership between the Savannah River Site – the U.S. Department of Energy more generally – and the outside world.

At a 15,000-foot level, the AMC represents a confluence of the Savannah River National Laboratory and both the future of education and manufacturing.

What is it?

At its core, the AMC will "provide some laboratory space, testing kinds of space, available both for industry and academia," according to SRS deputy manager Thomas Johnson Jr.

Johnson discussed Trump's budget request and answered questions about the AMC on Monday during a Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board meeting.

Trump's budget request, including DOE's related justification, describes the purpose of the AMC in great detail: "The Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative facility will provide accessible, modern, commercially viable and flexible laboratory space for SRNL to collaborate with industry and academia to translate a range of proven and potential advanced manufacturing technologies from the commercial chemical and manufacturing sectors into DOE processes, plans and missions to significantly improve risk management, enhance worker and public safety, reduce costs and shave years off the legacy waste cleanup schedule."

The AMC was pitched about three years ago. It's hit snags, in one way or another, since.

Where would it go?

The 60,000 square-foot facility is planned for the USC Aiken campus, according to both DOE documents and Dr. Sandra Jordan, the chancellor of USCA.

"We've been very patiently and supportively waiting," Jordan said Thursday.

The chancellor believes USCA is the best fit for the facility because the university has invested in related curriculum and hirings. The university, she continued, would also offer the AMC all the right kinds of exposure.

Jordan described the proposed $50 million as an "excellent sign." Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon and Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Will Williams had similar things to say.

"I think this is a signal that they agree that this is a good thing for the nation, and certainly it's a good thing for our city and our region," Osbon said Friday.

"We started hearing a few weeks ago, 'Pay attention to the budget, pay attention to the budget,'" Williams said during a sit-down interview with the Aiken Standard.

"I get down in the dumps about it sometimes," Williams said, "but then when I see something like this happening, I'm like, 'Alright, they are still trying.'"

Williams has been more or less involved with the the AMC venture from the beginning.

What could it do?

Both Jordan and Williams painted the AMC – if and when it gets done – as a flash point, an economic development engine for at least Aiken County.

Jordan said things happen around industry. South Carolina, she added, has built an economy with manufacturing and skilled labor in mind: Bridgestone in Graniteville, Kimberly-Clark in Beech Island and Boeing near Charleston, for example.

So, she continued, it only makes sense to foster that sort of workforce and encourage that sort of learning. 

"This is a knowledge-based economy that we're in," Jordan said, referencing North Carolina's famed Research Triangle and California's legendary Silicon Valley.

Placing the AMC at USCA will "create an environment that can develop the best and brightest next generation workforce," DOE's budget documents read in part.

Williams specifically used the word "catalyst" in reference to the AMC.

"This could be, you could see some very high-tech, positive growth along the University Parkway corridor," he said.

Osbon believes the AMC could piece-by-piece mirror – if not directly connect Aiken to – the cyber and technology corridor that exists across the river in Augusta.

The mayor further said he would expect the AMC to draw "independent and private manufacturers" to the surrounding area.