Zucker Family Graduate Education Center

Clemson formally opened its Zucker Family Graduate Education Center on Friday. The university's new North Charleston outpost is meant to help train engineers to fill the Lowcountry's high-tech labor shortage.

Clemson's new graduate school building sports glass-walled offices, freshly painted classrooms and sweeping views of the Cooper River - from the Ravenel Bridge to the barges and cranes that line the old Navy base.

Its new director has started his new job, students are midway through their first semester in the new building and workers have finished the last details on the $21.5 million facility in North Charleston.

But at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Friday morning, university officials said the work was far from done for the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

The Upstate university's North Charleston outpost is envisioned as a way to help train more engineers to work in the region's growing technology and advanced manufacturing sectors with classes taught locally and streamed in from the main campus. Another goal is to bolster Clemson's adjacent Energy Innovation Center, which studies wind turbines and the electrical grid.

Johan Enslin, who started this month as director, is tasked with balancing the center's broader aims with its specific research focuses. He said the center plans to hire about a dozen faculty members in Charleston and about 40 researchers.

Zucker Family Graduate Education Center

About 40 students are enrolled in the newly opened Zucker Family Graduate Education Center on the former Navy base in North Charleston.

Doing that will require the university to decide how to focus the center's work. Enslin says he expects researchers to tackle questions around sustainable energy, electricity storage, cybersecurity and the smart grid.

Still, officials point to the center's potential to have a broader impact on the Lowcountry. The region's boosters regularly cite a shortage of trained workers as one of the most pressing challenges facing the local economy, and recent estimates suggest that Charleston will need hundreds more engineers each year to keep up with growing demand.

Zucker Family Graduate Education Center

One of the views from the newly opened Zucker Family Graduate Education Center in North Charleston.

That concern is hardly new: James Clements, president of Clemson, said it came up when he met with Lowcountry business leaders almost three years ago, shortly after he was named to the top job at the state school.

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"They told me there's a tremendous, tremendous need for highly skilled, highly educated engineers, scientists, technology experts across multiple disciplines," Clements said. "And they also told me that they were really concerned about the workforce pipeline, that they need great talent and that their companies are built on great talent and they need more."

One of the people in the room was Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group, a North Charleston-based global business that owns several energy and manufacturing businesses. Her family would later contribute $5 million to the project, citing the need for more education options in the region.

About 40 graduate students are taking classes at the center this semester, with plans to eventually increase enrollment to about 200. 

"What happens in the spring is going to be the best development of all," said Zucker, a former teacher. " As excited as I am about the grand opening of this building, I'm even more excited about meeting the first graduates who will earn their degrees here."

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703 or on Twitter @thadmoore.

Thad Moore is a reporter on The Post and Courier’s Watchdog and Public Service team, a native of Columbia and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. His career at the newspaper started on the business desk in 2016.