DreamPort one step closer to coming to USC Aiken


AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — New life could be breathed into an empty tract of land on a local college campus.

“We do see more complex, more capable treats that are out there that require additional asset sometimes to be applied in order to quote, defend our network from those type of actors,” South Carolina Adjutant General Major General Van McCarty told NewsChannel 6 when discussing cyber threats in the Palmetto State.

Those actors are the ones Maj. Gen. McCarty and his team at the South Carolina National Guard are trying working to keep at bay. We’re “looking to plan ahead for the future,” he added.

“I think it’s just great to have the CSRA functioning and in such a concerted fashion to tackle the problem of cybersecurity that really exists nationwide and internationally,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at USC Aiken Dr. Daren Timmons added.

It’s the power of proximity. That’s how officials are describing the National Guard’s Readiness Center and Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative efforts now underway on the campus of USCA.

“When you look at the Savannah River Site and its history of what it has done in South Carolina, it brings a lot of high tech jobs,” Maj. Gen. McCarty said.

A memorandum of understanding is now signed supporting the development. The readiness center, also known as DreamPort, is expected to be the home of the National Guard’s 125th Cyber Battalion currently headquartered near Columbia. It’s a plan 10 years in the making.

“We began to look for where we want it to be in this time and space from a standpoint of a number of factors to include, the demographics of areas around the state, where the populations were anticipated, and where we felt we could recruit the soldiers and airmen that we need to serve,” Maj. Gen. McCarty shared. “The Aiken SRS community has been one that’s been identified by us for a number of years,” he added.

The location is expected to build the next generation of cybersecurity professionals — both in the civilian and military sectors.

“Institutions will need to come together to ensure that the young people starting with the kindergarteners that are a part of the program at USCA can, all the way up through the 12th grade, have the proper skillsets and the knowledge of being able to compete in what is truly going to be a digital worldwide economy that we’re rapidly, if not in, certainly moving toward now, whether all those young people go to work in that type of field or not,” the Adjutant General said.

“The more attention the CSRA gets for its work in cybersecurity or in technical jobs in general, the technical field, provides an additional economic incentive for businesses to move to relocate down here and certainly provides additional opportunities for employment for students that are coming out with credentials and provides additional encouragement to high school students and middle school students to engage in this field or perhaps pursue an advanced degree,” Dr. Timmons added.

Maj. Gen. McCarty said that just a readiness center, the price tag is just north of $20 million. $15 million-plus of that amount is going to federal dollars. The state, though, is required to put up 25 percent of dollars. It does not have to be state dollars. It could be dollars from the local community. It could be private money, but it cannot be federal money to match federal money.

“We really need to have our state match secured this year by October of 21,” Adjutant General revealed. “We are working with the local delegation there in Aiken. They recently, on their list of prioritized projects that could be funded through the SRS MOX settlement fund, we were listed in that as a second priority. We’re very pleased for that,” Maj. Gen. McCarty.

NewsChannel 6 is also learning, in addition to housing the cyber battalion there, officials are looking to house a signal company there in conjunction with the other entities that would utilize that facility in the manner that they are anticipating.

“It certainly is exciting to see that people across the states and across the nation are seeing the power of proximity,” Dr. Timmons said.

Timmons says that this collaboration brings attention to other great things happening at the University. The school recently added a new degree program in cybersecurity and partnered with a cyber institute. “They offer GX certifications and students in our programs will be able to gain three GX certs inside their degree plan. That’s a great benefit to them as they finish their degree and have these real-world certifications about their cyber skills. All of this is connected to what’s going on on the Georgia side of the River with Fort Gordon and the Georgia Cyber Center,” he said.

The design, environmental, and real estate work for the DreamPort and readiness complex should begin in the fall, with construction starting in fall 2022 and taking about two years.

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