Building and Mobilizing Our Base

There has been much talk this political season about the country remaining globally competitive. In the Upstate, we haven’t just been talking about it; we’ve been doing something about it.

We’ve come a long way from competing with the rest of the world for cheap land, labor and incentives. The people of South Carolina have identified clusters in advanced materials, automotive, energy and others, and now people are coming to the Upstate because we are smart, innovative, collaborative and international.

Today there is a dynamic environment where small- and medium-size companies can prosper. Some innovations are incremental, but others are transformational, creating entirely new markets by combining capabilities and insights across industry segments.

Sage Automotive Interiors was created out of a former automotive division at Milliken. Cutting-edge nanotechnology that came out of Clemson University gave birth to Lab21 Inc., which now supports healthcare providers with advanced testing services. Two forward-thinking business partners took over an old tool and die shop and turned it into Adex Machining Technologies Inc., an advance manufacturer for the aerospace, defense and energy sectors.

Over the past seven years, we have identified South Carolina’s core industrial clusters. Yet, a new one has emerged – one that touches almost every industry, and one we can say we are the best in the world.

Mobility.

Broadly defined, it includes mobile applications for smart phones and tablets to innovative automobiles, buses and trucks to transportation infrastructure like the smart grid. Changes in materials, energy and connectivity are enabling technologies in the global transformation of mobility.

Mobility attracts automotive OEMs like BMW Manufacturing Co. and Ford Motor Co., and existing component suppliers like Kemet Corp. and Sage. The electronic content of cars is growing rapidly, and electric vehicles are really electronic devices, which will morph in function and form like phones, laptops and other electronic products.

What’s really exciting is that mobility is attracting new companies not traditionally in automotive, like Flextronics International, the world’s second largest electronic contract manufacturer; Itron, a leading producer of electric meters; and Duke Energy.

It’s nice to pat ourselves on the back and say how smart we are. The real test of claiming to be among the world’s best is asking the question, “Does it ring true with those outside the region?”

On Nov. 7-8, Greenville will host InnoMobility2012, a conference focused on the global transformation of mobility. Business leaders, entrepreneurs, designers, investors and other professionals will join executives from automotive OEMs and major companies like Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. The conference will include keynote speakers from BMW iVentures in New York and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm that financed Amazon.com and Google Inc.

Within mobility, we’re world-class and everyone is an economic player. This is real progress we can all be proud of and confident in.

John Warner is the CEO of InnoVenture LLC, which produces InnoVenture.com to help innovative ventures form social networks to attract the resources they need, and the annual InnoMobilty conference.