A Place To Live, Work and Prosper
His hometown, once prosperous from peach orchards and textile mills, now fights to recruit white collar jobs that will entice generations of young leaders to stay in the community. He believes that education is the answer to recruiting these jobs to the area, bringing with them a higher per capita income and increase in the quality of living.
It is this belief that led George Dean Johnson, Jr. to explore ways in which he could help the Spartanburg community, now and for generations to come, to prosper as others from his hometown once prospered.
While Johnson is as well-known for his business acumen as he is for the philanthropic efforts he and his wife, Susu, have made to education and the arts, he is adding a new dimension to his legacy. The University of South Carolina Upstate announced in December the naming of the George Dean Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics and the promise of a new downtown location that will assist in economic development, aid in pre-start-up and incubation support of small business, and introduce thousands of business majors over the years to the opportunities for investment in the City.
“The University is greatly honored by the identification of its business school with Mr. Johnson. And locating the George Dean Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics in the center of Renaissance Park will be a tremendous asset not only to downtown development but, because of the naming, to the reputation of the University,” said Dr. John Stockwell, chancellor of USC Upstate.
Johnson is a man of immense talent and versatility—former practicing attorney, legislator, State Development Board chairman and State Chamber of Commerce president—and one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs. He is founder, former Chief Executive Officer and a former Director of Extended Stay America, Inc. Johnson is a former President of the domestic consumer division of Blockbuster Entertainment, a division of Viacom, Inc. He was formerly the managing general partner of WJB Video, the largest Blockbuster franchisee, which developed over 200 video stores prior to a merger with Blockbuster in 1993. Since 1985, Johnson has been the managing general partner of American Storage Limited Partnership, a chain of 28 self-storage facilities located in the Carolinas and Georgia. His real estate development company, Johnson Development Associates, Inc., has developed and manages in excess of 6 million square feet of retail space, industrial space, office space and apartments.
Stockwell adds that the new facility will be located along Saint John Street adjacent to the Chapman Cultural Center. The facility will be a three-story, 44,000 square foot building. The University expects to break ground in late fall 2008 and anticipates that construction will be completed in December 2009.
“Our future is tied to education and I believe that this project will help us all in ways that we can’t yet imagine,” said Johnson. “This is an investment in the University of South Carolina Upstate and in the College of Business and Economics but more importantly, it is an investment in the community. It is setting the stage for economic development, the creation of entrepreneurs and for life-long learning. It is an investment in Spartanburg—one that I hope will give people’s children and grandchildren a place to live, work and prosper.”
Johnson has become well acquainted with educational statistics and can quote those as easily as he can explain investment returns. He talks of how only 66 percent of high school students in Spartanburg County actually receive a high school diploma and only 33 percent of those students seek further education. Johnson has great concerns that only 18 percent of Spartanburg residents have a college degree, making it harder to build a knowledge-based economy which is the way of the future. He cites that our per capita income, which is the measure of our economic and social health, is lower than the state average.
“With this bold move to locate the College of Business downtown, it is one step in having a vibrant downtown,” said Johnson. “Spartanburg County cannot be successful unless the City is dynamic and vital because we cannot recruit knowledge-based jobs. The road out of poverty runs directly by the school house door. If we have the boldness and the confidence to invest in USC Upstate we will be successful as a community and our per capita income will grow.”
Mayor Bill Barnet agrees and says that bringing the Johnson College of Business and Economics to downtown Spartanburg will create a new energy, untapped opportunities, and an enthusiastic commitment to education.
“We spawn another great project that will move the momentum of our community forward and that can benefit the next generation as we had hoped to do,” said Barnet. “This is a dream for the City. Dream with me of the 850 college students and all the potential they will bring, a distinguished faculty that will be housed in the center of our city, the potential for our entrepreneurial talents, the possibilities for internships, and the promise for retail and housing. This community can and will be all that it should be.”
The City of Spartanburg is partnering with USC Upstate to make this new $26 million facility a reality. The City’s provision of land (approximately one acre) is valued at $650,000 and the City will partner with the University in the construction of a new 780-space parking garage at a cost of $11 million with a minimum of 250 parking spaces provided for USC Upstate. The City will also provide infrastructure to include sidewalks, streets and landscaping.
In addition to the City’s financial commitment, more than $10 million in private contributions, including $2 million to endow the College, was raised in less than 30 days. The University will contribute $5 million toward the project. The capital project will be developed and managed by the Carolina Piedmont Foundation Properties II, LLC.
“The Johnson College of Business and Economics is a gift to this community in many ways,” said City Manager Mark Scott. “The St. John Street address should be among the best in the entire Upstate and our Downtown Master Plan singles out the Renaissance Park area as key to our future downtown development. The Johnson College of Business and Economics will stimulate pedestrian activity, generate professional level job creation in the area, bring meetings and tourism to the Marriott Hotel, and perhaps best of all, it will expose thousands of future business leaders to the joys of living and working in downtown Spartanburg. It would be hard to find a better fit for the goals the Master Plan presents.”
Dr. Stockwell acknowledged that “this project would not be possible without the private financial resources of very committed donors and the leadership of Mayor Barnet, the City Council, City Manager Mark Scott and the City planning team.”
With the announcement of the new name and architectural and construction plans currently in progress, it has been hard to contain the enthusiasm and excitement of Dr. Darrell Parker, dean of the Johnson College of Business and Economics.
“First priorities for the College are modern facilities with current technology, shared space for executive and continuing education opportunities, and a “Class A” office environment that welcomes and serves the business community,” said Parker. “This new facility will relieve pressures on restricted space for teaching and learning through the creation of sufficient classrooms and offices for future growth. In addition, it will permit the development of specialized instructional space including dedicated computer labs with business software, a stock market trading room for finance classes, and classrooms with computers to permit students to individually run educational software during class. It will also support executive education and other academic outreach activities, enabling expanded services for small businesses and connecting business leaders with the University and its students.”
The magnitude of this new facility and having Johnson’s name attached to it is certainly not lost on Jim Smith, a 1972 graduate of USC Upstate and chairman of the Spartanburg County Commission for Higher Education. “In 1967 we stood at the threshold of tremendous opportunity with the opening of USC Upstate with 177 students and big dreams. Today we likewise stand at the threshold of a tremendous opportunity. This is a benchmark in the life of the University and in our City. It takes the University a tremendous step forward toward becoming the preeminent metropolitan institution in the Southeast which we aspire to be. George Dean Johnson, Jr. has set a standard of citizenship and stewardship of which every business person and every citizen in Spartanburg should hold in the highest regard.”