C of C logistics center in business

Peter Straub, executive director of the state’s Applied Research Center for Supply Chains and Logistics, at the center’s office at the College of Charleston.

With one of the Southeast’s top transportation hubs in the Port of Charleston and industries like aerospace, automobiles and technology taking hold statewide, the S.C. Department of Commerce is putting greater emphasis on helping companies improve their supply chain and logistics capabilities.

That push includes the newly opened Applied Research Center for Supply Chain and Logistics at the College of Charleston, which aims to be a centralized point for businesses statewide to contract for research and consulting that solves problems specific to their needs.

“This affords companies to do research and look at a specific project without having to go out and hire new people or invest in software or other resources,” said Peter Straub, the center’s executive director. “Where the center will bring real value to companies is that the research will result in recommendations for immediate application as well as for future enhancements, rather than addressing hypothetical situations.”

The center is in its start-up phase on the fourth floor of the college’s Beatty Center, which houses the business school. Initially, the center will develop pilot projects for a handful of large manufacturers in the state, with the first project scheduled to start this quarter. Eventually, Straub sees the center establishing an application process where companies can request specific services.

“It will be very beneficial for small businesses because they can utilize these resources at very little cost,” he said.

Funded by a $10 million appropriation by the state Legislature, Straub said the center aims to become self-sufficient over time through its research services. A joint project between the commerce department and the nonprofit South Carolina Research Authority, the center could become the first of several statewide that focus on boosting competitiveness and efficiency at private-sector businesses.

“The supply chain and logistics center will leverage SCRA’s capabilities in applied research and development, helping both South Carolina companies and universities gain traction and further economic growth,” Bill Mahoney, the authority’s CEO, said in a statement. The SCRA manages more than $2.8 billion in national and international research and development programs for businesses.

Supply chain — defined as every company that comes into contact with a product, from parts manufacturing to assembly and sales — and the logistics of delivering that product were chosen as the center’s focus because of the greater emphasis businesses are putting on the issue.

“It’s getting to be such a big field now,” Straub said. “Some companies used to look at it as a necessary evil and not an opportunity to add to their bottom line. Now they’re starting to see that.”

The center will provide College of Charleston students an opportunity to assist in research projects and gain internship experience with companies that use its services. The College of Charleston will offer a new supply chain management major starting this fall, and Straub said he intends to call on professors and students in that program for help. The center also will use research capabilities at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.

Straub — who spent 15 years at Michelin North American in Greenville, most recently as manager of international transportation — said South Carolina is poised to become a national leader in supply chain and logistics.

“The Southeast is a hotbed for logistics and transportation,” he said. “You look at the four quadrants of the United States, and it’s probably the strongest. And in South Carolina, with the port and the infrastructure with the rail expanding and the inland port, it just offers so many more opportunities for manufacturers and service providers to expand the supply chain logistics method.”

Reach David Wren at 937-5550.