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Technology firm expands to Columbia, secures naval contract


Miwon Specialty Chemical Co. broke ground on its planned $19.5 million manufacturing plant in Richland County this month. Photo by Jessica Holdman/The Post and Courier

A Hawaii-based research and technology company has opened an office in downtown Columbia and recently secured a contract for naval research, in partnership with the University of South Carolina.

Navatek came to the Capital City to work with USC’s College of Engineering and Computing on a $9.2 million Office of Naval Research project focused on naval power systems.

“Navatek is thrilled to lay roots in South Carolina and to formally partner with UofSC, a leader in power systems for the Navy,” CEO Martin Kao says in a statement.

In its 10,000-square-foot office in the Wells Fargo Building on Main Street, Navatek will develop power management software for Navy ships, designed to reallocate energy as needed to operate power-intensive weapons and radar, according to Duke Hartman, vice president of strategic partnerships for Navatek.

“This award will immediately give the employees of our Columbia office the opportunity to work on the latest and leading-edge technologies and challenges with the development of digital twins for the Navy,” Kao says. “As our base of employees grows in South Carolina, we look forward to bringing into the state Navatek’s diverse and expansive portfolio of work and research. I take great personal ownership and responsibility for the long-term job security and prosperity of Navatek’s employees and the jobs we create in South Carolina. We are committed to South Carolina for the long term.”

Navatek has hired 10 full-time scientists and engineers and four interns from USC and South Carolina State University. The company will grow to 60 people over the next two and a half years, contingent on new contract awards.

Hartman says the company is hopeful it can secure another $9 million for each of the next three years of the project, which is one of the larger contracts the company has secured.

“This is a very timely opportunity for UofSC to continue to lead the nation in the emerging field of Navy digital twin research, and to educate and train the next generation of innovators in this, and related fields,” says Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing.

Hartman says Navatek brings high-paying technology-focused jobs to the cities and college towns it chooses to locate, with average salaries around $120,000. He said it also benefits the towns and universities it works with by helping retain top talent.

Navatek has five focus areas: vehicles, autonomous technology and machine learning, cybersecurity, materials and manufacturing, and with the addition of the Columbia office, power and energy systems. In addition to Hawaii, it has offices in Rhode Island, Maine, Virginia, Michigan, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Chemical company breaks ground

Miwon Specialty Chemical Co. broke ground on its planned $19.5 million manufacturing plant in Richland County this month.

Project manager Jiyong Park says the facility sits on 15 acres. The company has plans for multiple phases of expansion, with hopes of eventually employing as many as 100 people on six manufacturing lines.

Hiring for the first phase is expected to begin in the third quarter, with operations starting in early 2021, says operations manager Brian Raudenbush. The company needs lab technicians, quality controllers, logistics and purchasing employees and more.

This is Miwon’s first manufacturing facility in the United States. The company located here to serve its customers here and expand its market reach.

The 65,000-square-foot production facility will be made up of multiple buildings, housing offices, storage and machinery for the chemical reactor process, at 1700 Longwood Road in Columbia, according to Brian Stewart of Pyramid Contracting, which provided the design and construction services.

New development in Cayce

Atlanta-based The Simpson Organization Inc. will build a mixed-use development on 36 acres in Cayce.

The site, located at the intersection of Interstate 77 and 12th Street Extension, will include apartments, restaurants, retail, a hotel, office space and an entertainment area, the company said in a statement. Total investment will exceed $65 million.

“We envision this mixed-use village as a true live, work and play destination offering entertainment, shopping, and a place to call home,” Boyd Simpson, owner of The Simpson Organization, says in a statement. “Some of the planned amenities include a gracious plaza and fountain at the entry area and a multi-family residential and lifestyle storage component. Our phasing strategy is to allow the village to grow over time.”

Ground breaking will take place in late 2021.

“12th Street is an important economic corridor and a welcoming point to our city,” Cayce Mayor Elise Partin says in a statement. “This mixed-use village will give our residents and visitors another great place to dine, shop, and be entertained. It already embodies the same traits of excellence that we have intentionally included in the growth of our city.”

EB Development will provide leasing and marketing services. Paris Projects will manage construction. ODA Architecture has been contracted to lead the design.

Apartments planned for former VA building

Apartments are planned for the former Veterans Affairs building in downtown Columbia.

In addition to apartments, the five-story building at the corner of Assembly and Laurel streets will be renovated to include commercial space, a rooftop bar, pool and a banquet area, according to documents filed with the Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals. Plans by Garvin Design Group show a “speakeasy” style bar, co-working space and a health club with fitness studio, as well as about 40 one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

The federal government had planned to demolish the former VA regional office to add parking, The State reported in 2015, after the agency moved the 400-employee office to a new site off Garners Ferry Road. But opposition from the mayor and historic preservationists kept the structure standing.

Do you know of a residential, commercial or industrial development in the Midlands that is opening, closing or expanding? Reach Jessica Holdman at

Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.

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