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CofC establishes center for binational economic agreements

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A new center at the College of Charleston is working to recruit high-tech companies from Israel and Estonia to work with companies in South Carolina, as well as supporting existing agreements between South Carolina and the two countries.

The Center for the Global Alliance for South Carolina will help businesses and research institutions in the Palmetto State connect with one another, as well as counterparts in Israel and Estonia.

The center will report to Brian McGee, professor of communications and executive vice president for academic affairs at the College of Charleston, though McGee said the center and the Global Alliance for South Carolina, a nonprofit housed at the center that manages bilateral agreements between South Carolina and countries, are not only for CofC’s benefit.

“The center is intended to serve all of South Carolina and to foster cooperation with the private and public universities in the state, along with business, with government entities and with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations),” he said at the announcement of the center. “The center will collaborate in connecting academic researchers with business opportunities … and provide a home for the Global Alliance in a major South Carolina city.”

The Global Alliance for South Carolina was chosen by the S.C. Department of Commerce to manage existing bilateral agreements between the Palmetto State and the countries of Israel and Estonia.

“We’ve ... worked hard to build a new organization to help us build economic, research and academic relationships with other countries,” said Jonathan Zucker, president of The Intertech Group and a member of the Global Alliance’s board of directors.

South Carolina entered into a Bilateral Cooperation in Industrial Research and Development agreement with Israel in 2013, allowing research facilities and businesses in the two regions to collaborate. The state entered into a similar agreement with Estonia in 2016, built on relationships the Harry and Reba Huge Foundation, the College of Charleston and The Citadel had with organizations in Estonia.

The alliance’s goal is to build a business and research support system that attracts smaller high-tech companies from Israel and Estonia, as well as potentially other countries in the future, to work alongside South Carolina companies or relocate operations to the Palmetto State.

The alliance is a collaboration of Advanced Technology International, the Medical University of South Carolina, The Citadel, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and SCRA, as well as CofC and the Commerce Department.

Russ Keller, executive director of the Global Alliance and a senior vice president at Advanced Technology International, said South Carolina views the alliance as a “long-term play” for high-tech economic development in the state, especially in the high-tech sector. Keller said the Global Alliance is also awarding grants to companies through a program where a company from South Carolina, Estonia or Israel partners with a company from elsewhere to work on a single product that the two companies wouldn’t be able to do alone.

“Some people might say, ‘Why Israel?’ or ‘Why Estonia?’” he said. “But if you look closely at the technology strengths in those two countries and where some of the leading-edge research is there and here in South Carolina, it becomes way more obvious.”

Judith Varnai Shorer, consul general of Israel to the southeastern United States, commended the work done to put together the Global Alliance for South Carolina.

“Everything was done in the framework of collaborative industry research,” she said. Varnai Shorer added that Israel is committed to continuing to work on the alliance.

Marina Kaljurand, former Estonian foreign affairs minister, agreed with Varnai Shorer, and said Estonian and Israeli relationships have been strengthened by the ties of the alliance. Kaljurand was the representative for Estonia at the Global Alliance’s announcement.

“Having served as an ambassador to both countries — Israel and the United States — I see the values and the benefits of this agreement,” Kaljurand said, because it allows businesses in Israel, Estonia and South Carolina to directly connect with one another.

Zucker said the Palmetto State also has an opportunity to learn from Israel and Estonia about different approaches to innovation.

“Both countries are very young ... in the history of our globe, and because of that, they bring a certain startup mentality to the table and it’s something we can learn so much from,” he said.  

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2017, print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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