COLUMBIA -- The University of South Carolina and the S.C. Research Authority on Thursday officially opened their $6.6 million high-tech business incubator in downtown Columbia.

The USC/SCRA Innovation Center, as it is called, is in the 66,000-square-foot former warehouse building at 1000 Catawba St., across Assembly Street from USC's Swearingen Engineering Center. The building was notable for the "Cockaboose" railroad car that had been for sale in front of the building.

The center has room to house 10 to 15 technology companies that emerge from research at USC.

"This center will be a place where innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation will come together to improve our region and our state," USC President Harris Pastides said. "It will serve the aspirations of Richland and Lexington counties, of course, but its impact can also extend far beyond our region."

The Columbia center is the second of three the authority will build in the state, said SCRA chief executive Bill Mahoney. It is totally funded by the agency.

The first was completed on upper Meeting Street in Charleston in 2009 in conjunction with the Medical University of South Carolina. The third is scheduled to open in Anderson in March, next to Clemson University's Advanced Materials Center.

The USC center will be larger than other two and will be the last step for high-tech startups before they move to their own facilities, Mahoney said.

"This building is intended for companies in later stages than Charleston or Anderson," he said.

The first tenant here is Immedion, an outsource information service company. SCRA also is expecting Columbia firm Design Measurement, which produces miniature wireless sensors, to move in soon.

SCRA and EngenuitySC, which supports high-tech development in the Midlands, have moved their offices to the center. Mahoney said seven other firms are considering the center.

"The pipeline is pretty full right now," Mahoney said.

Wachovia, a Wells Fargo company, is financing the center. It is designed by the Garvin Design Group.