How nontraditional partnerships can benefit your next project

When the University of South Carolina at Beaufort (USCB) looked to form a new culinary program, Hilton Head Island had an ingenious idea.

Struggling with workforce issues for some time, Hilton Head approached USCB realizing it could help solve USCB’s problem. USCB brought the program to the island, and Hilton Head financed the project. They found an additional strategic partner in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which lacked meeting spaces.

As opposed to just serving the immediate client, USCB’s project will bring a new synergy to Hilton Head, offering a more frequenly used building with new special event spaces for the island and instructional spaces for multiple tenants. Even before its completion, the building is said to be where the island’s marathons begin and end.

Mark Olson, principal at Bialosky Cleveland, says this is just one example of how collaborating across the private and public sectors leads to solutions with a deeper impact. As an architect, he finds this true again and again, especially where the hospitality and culinary industry intersects with higher education and the greater community.

“It has to do with stepping outside the confines of a specific project’s focus and scope to develop a solution that responds not only to a singular program or client, but also the community as a whole,” Olson says. “To truly have an engaging and successful project, I encourage clients to imagine opportunities for their project beyond the confines of their immediate program.”

Smart Business spoke with Olson about such mutually-beneficial partnerships.

What are examples of synergy or value-add with respect to hospitality and culinary schools?
These partnerships often start when the space standards are being developed, but it goes far beyond that. Montana State University is developing a culinary program that will cross-pollinate with the agriculture program. There’s a common denominator through a food science laboratory that could be shared by both programs.

It is about looking past the limited scope of a program. A state-of-the-art kitchen lab that is only used twice a week may be the perfect candidate for a mutually-beneficial partnership to share in its use. When a new program is looked at broadly, the solution typically results in building less, and serving multiple entities.

The University of Denver’s culinary program creates win-win relationships between it, the business school and the community. Local refugees are trained by culinary students, who teach what they’re learning, which reinforces their studies.

In turn, disenfranchised refugees learn valuable job skills and also gain a stronger connection to the community. Within the university, culinary students engage with the business school to learn about pro formas or developing an event, while business students create business plans and financial prospectuses for projects like food fairs. Such collaborations prompt real-world applications for students.

How does this work in the private sector?
Projects that have public-private partnerships often work better, and might not have been possible any other way. Kent State University used a developer-based design-build model to realize new facilities for its campus with a state-approved private partnership. The typical way to finance these projects through state funding has become much harder to secure, costs more and takes longer.

How do you recommend business leaders develop this kind of thinking?
These connections can happen a number of ways, but it starts with the realization that there are opportunities outside their internal organizations and typical networks.

Just like business owners take advantage of historic or new market tax credits when looking to develop a project, there are community aspects and partnerships that could enhance their business. It does not need to be a physical partnership by sharing a space; it could be a business partnership.

No one works on an island — bringing diverse voices and talents together as a team, more often than not, leads to the most creative and efficient solutions.

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