Life Member Brings Business Back to Carolina
Bill Comer hasn’t forgotten where he started. The 1982 accounting graduate and Union, SC, native is bringing business back to his alma mater through his ties with national health-services company American Specialty Health Incorporated. ASH announced recently it is teaming up with Innovista at the University of South Carolina to create a health-technology innovation center that will bring new jobs and opportunities to Columbia. Comer, who is the chief financial officer, executive vice president and treasurer of the San Diego, CA-based company, introduced ASH to the South Carolina market and said he wholeheartedly endorses and encourages other alumni to look at coming back to Carolina with their businesses.
“For a company that is looking to relocate or to start a new business, the amount of support, encouragement and collaboration that they will find working with the university, including Innovista and My Carolina, the City of Columbia, and the state, is going to be extremely impressive and, actually, overwhelming,” Comer said.
“What we found is that everyone has rolled out the red carpet for us and treated us as if they sincerely care about what we are doing and want us to become part of the community," he continues. "Most importantly, they want us to integrate and be actively involved. For me, personally, it’s offered the opportunity to learn more about what the university is doing to advance the breadth and availability of a high-quality education that will positively affect our local, national and global economies and our quality of life in many different facets, and to really re-engage and become part of that mission. It’s stimulated me and made me proud of my university, and I am glad that I can do a little to give something back to the university and to my home state.”
ASH recently signed a lease for office space in the “IT-oLogy @ Innovista”-branded building at the Tower at 1301 Gervais Street and plans to open the office in November. The new office will employ up to 15 IT professionals and will offer internships and job opportunities to students and recent graduates of the university’s computing, information technology, and health-sciences programs, as well as to experienced local IT professionals.
“As technology plays an increasingly larger role in our service capabilities, and in the day-to-day lives of people, ASH must deliver innovative and robust capabilities that will allow us to keep up with demand and also grow our services in new ways,” said ASH chairman and CEO George DeVries. “Our new office site tied to the university campus and our affiliation with USC and Innovista puts us at the center of technology innovation, and will facilitate access to a valuable pool of prospective employees as we develop new web and mobile technology applications.”
Comer said the idea to bring the company to Columbia evolved over a period of a year and half, beginning with a conversation about the work of Innovista and the “Carolina’s Promise” campaign with Chris DeWolf, who is the senior director of development for the university, during his visit to San Diego.
“The university has been working with us on an exceptionally close basis to teach us about what’s going on at the university and to show us what the opportunities are and how we can work with each other for the benefit of students and our business to develop a pool of talent,” Comer said. “It culminated with a trip in August, meeting with President Pastides and people from the Arnold School of Public Health, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Department of Commerce, Innovista, the city, Mayor Steve Benjamin, and representatives from My Carolina. As ASH’s management learned about the school and more people got involved here, we realized there was a very compelling story. It attracted us to put a toe-hold into the IT-oLogy building, with the hope that it becomes a foothold very soon.”
“With our business continuing to grow, we’ll eventually need an East Coast operations center,” Comer said. “Our hope is that working with the university and Innovista, within two or three years, this initial high-tech innovation center will grow into a full-blown operations center for us on the East Coast. This will give us a presence across the nation in San Diego, Dallas, Indianapolis and now Columbia.”
The decision excited university and city officials, as well.
“USC places a high priority on engagement with business and industry,” said university President Harris Pastides. “ASH has a national reputation for excellence in health services, and we are excited to collaborate in areas of technology innovation, while expanding the educational and employment opportunities for our students and graduates.”
Bill Comer explains how it all came about.
“Early in the discussion process, I contacted Mary Ruffin Childs with My Carolina, and, immediately, the My Carolina team was enthusiastically supportive and committed to helping a Carolina graduate engage with the university and with fellow alumni to build a productive base of operations in Columbia,” Comer said. “During our August visit to Columbia, I met with My Carolina, and the rapport and genuine interest was evident, right off the bat. I felt as though I had come home to family; there was an immediate connection. Through My Carolina, networking contacts have been provided who are continuing to offer assistance to locate and recruit qualified candidates for our health technology innovation center. My Carolina truly wants our company, and me, to be successful.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is also a Carolina alumnus, praised the move.
“The decision of American Specialty Health to locate to Columbia fuels our growing knowledge economy and reinforces what many already know about our capital city—Columbia is a great place to do business and provides an excellent quality of life,” Benjamin said.
ASH has repeatedly been recognized among the best places to work in San Diego and nationally, and is one of the fastest-growing companies in America.
“The whole purpose of our business is to promote and empower individuals to be able to live longer, happier lives.” Comer said.
“That same purpose lives within the organization. We walk the talk by encouraging collaboration, accessibility, teamwork, and personal and professional growth, with a strong focus on health and well-being. We promote that through our wellness benefits, health challenges, incentive programs, stress-management offerings, and our on-site exercise center. For our Columbia office employees, since we are so closely tied to the university campus, the company is offering memberships to the Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center. We want to make sure all of our employees have the opportunity to live healthier, happier lives, whether in San Diego, South Carolina or any of our other locations.”
ASH is currently accepting applications for IT professionals to join the new office. Interested candidates can apply online or email ASH.
About American Specialty Health Incorporated (ASH)
American Specialty Health Incorporated (ASH) is a national health-services organization that provides fitness and exercise programs, total-population health programs and specialty health-care management programs for health plans, insurance carriers, employer groups and trust funds. Headquartered in San Diego, with an operations center in Dallas and satellite offices in Indianapolis and Columbia, SC, ASH has more than 900 employees and covers more than 31 million members. Additional products offered through ASH and its subsidiaries include Healthyroads®, ExerciseRewardsTM and others. For more information about ASH, visit www.ASHCompanies.com
or call (800) 848-3555. Follow ASH on Twitter at @ASHCompanies or @Healthyroads and on Facebook
Innovista is a public/private partnership anchored by the Innovation District in the heart of Columbia, South Carolina, that connects the University of South Carolina and university-spawned innovations with entrepreneurs, businesses and stakeholders. Innovista’s purpose is to attract, create, and grow technology-intensive, knowledge-based companies, resulting in higher-paying jobs that help to raise the standard of living in South Carolina. Visit the Innovista website for more information.