Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
top story

Clemson's football success coincides with strong city and campus growth over Columbia, USC

Bad news for those University of South Carolina fans in garnet and black who have been feeling blue in recent years: Clemson has been putting up winning numbers in local growth, too.

As Clemson University looks to extend its five-game winning streak Saturday in the annual Palmetto State rivalry, the small Upstate city and school it was named after are enjoying population and enrollment growth that exceeds Columbia and USC over this decade.


Two recent NCAA national championships have helped build name recognition for Clemson. Provided

The city of Clemson has added 119 more people than Columbia since 2010, even though the state's capital overall has 116,000 more people.

Clemson University, historically smaller, also has added 300 more students since 2010 than USC, even as both colleges have grown greatly.

It's about much more than just football.

Two recent NCAA national championships have helped build name recognition for Clemson, a valuable bonus in recruiting business, said Jack Ellenberg, Clemson's associate vice president who oversees business partnerships. 

“Everywhere I go, regardless of where it is in the world, people see the tiger paw lapel pin and they know it’s Clemson,” he said.

Business outreach has been a major part of Clemson's mission, and its local community has benefited even as it works statewide to help economic development with such projects as its Greenville automotive complex and the Restoration Institute in Charleston, he said.


Clemson is enjoying the economic benefits of being a national championship football town. Provided

Ellenberg points to Arthrex, one of the world's top makers of medical implant and surgical devices. It added a manufacturing facility in Sandy Springs near Clemson, looking to tap into the school's expertise on manufacturing and materials. 

An even more important goal for Arthrex and other companies, Ellenberg said, is to find the workers that their businesses need to grow. Arthrex is seeking to hire 1,000 employees in the first five years in its new facility, so it made sense for them to be close to Clemson.

“Every industry sector and every company out there is looking at workforce development," Ellenberg said. “If they don’t need the workers today, where are they going to find the workers for tomorrow?”

Both Clemson and Columbia reflect the economies of their region, according to USC economist Joey Von Nessen.

As the South Carolina economy has continued to expand, the Upstate has posted stronger domestic product growth than the Midlands or the Lowcountry, Von Nessen said. Advanced manufacturing has been driving much of the growth, and that is right in the Upstate's wheelhouse of employers and workforce skills, he said.

When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, it was the Upstate and Lowcountry that caught the worst of it because of their economic reliance on manufacturing and housing, Von Nessen said.

The Midlands suffered relatively less because of its stable employers in the government and military sector. When growth roared back, however, the Upstate took off while the Midlands got less of the bonus. 

"I like to think of the Midlands as the anchor or bedrock for the state's economy," Von Nessen said.

The Midlands economy might be stable, but a losing streak at USC can weigh on the minds of folks in Columbia and even take a bite out of the city's businesses.

"When the team isn't winning, it affects the mood of people in town," said Matt Kennell, president of the City Center Partnership, which promotes downtown Columbia growth. 

That mood might hurt food and beverage sales, Kennell said, but there's an unfortunate silver lining: it also might bring more fans of rival teams into town to see games.

Appalachian State fans poured into town before their game with USC earlier this year, which the Mountaineers won.


Clemson President James P. Clements takes a selfie with students in 2018. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

Their numbers rivaled the ranks of those in Clemson orange, which usually is the biggest gameday of the year for Columbia, Kennell said.

While this weekend is about the football rivalry, Ellenberg notes that the two colleges often are collaborating to encourage growth in the state rather than competing.

Both Clemson and USC are working with companies with major S.C. operations, including Boeing, Samsung and Nephron, to help them with research, staffing and training, he said. 

“It’s easy to look at the athletics side and say they don’t work in unison," Ellenberg said, "but outside of athletics we do a lot."

Follow him on Twitter at

More from this Author

Similar Stories

Ukraine prepared for more Russian strikes against energy and other key infrastructure Monday in what appears to be a weekly pattern, and warned of possible evacuations from the capital. Estonia's foreign minister joined counterparts from six Baltic and Nordic nations — in the largest delegation to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale war — to pledge electric generators, warm clothes and food. The goal is to help Ukrainians cope with their coldest months of need and keep their resolve high. Read moreUkraine on edge for more attacks, humanitarian aid pledged