Driving the Future in Greenville

Leaders from the City of Greenville pose with officials from Argo AI during a celebration at the Greenville Country Club.

The future has arrived in Greenville – “riding shotgun” in a self-driving car powered by Argo AI, a global leader in autonomous vehicle technology.

During a celebration at the Greenville Country Club, Argo AI’s president and co-founder, Pete Rander said he’s been looking for a place like Greenville for five years – about as long as the company has existed. Argo is setting up shop at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SC-TAC) on the former Donaldson Air Force Base. Argo will utilize the world-class automotive test track at the International Transportation Innovation Center (iTiC) on the same campus.

SC-TAC is a hub of innovation and the global home of Lockheed Martin’s F-16. Argo AI joins Lockheed and more than 100 other manufacturing, aerospace, and automotive companies that operate there.

Rander said South Carolina has a “business-friendly environment,” and the state, Greenville, SC-TAC, iTiC all “lined up remarkably well” for his company. Rander said Argo AI believes in a future where people have the personal freedom to choose whether to drive their car or allow their car to drive them. Until now, Argo AI has focused primarily on autonomous vehicle technology on urban streets.

The “Argo Way,” according to the company’s president, is collaborative – placing an emphasis on forging partnerships with other companies and community organizations.

Automotive giants Ford and Volkswagen are investors and customers. Walmart has also partnered with Argo AI and Ford to provide autonomous delivery service in Austin and Miami, and Lyft partners with Argo AI to offer autonomous ridesharing in those cities as well.

Rander said Argo AI’s Greenville location and the company’s fourth test track will give them the ability to safely test self-driving cars at highway speeds. Argo AI employees will simulate real-world highway driving on their closed track in Greenville.

Rander said they need to have a “brutal experience” every day at the test track in order to be prepared for anything that could happen in the real world.

In a way, Rander said, a little bit of Greenville will be injected into all of Argo AI’s autonomous vehicle technology.

South Carolina Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Ashely Teasdel, was in Greenville for what she called a “celebratory day.” She said we are living in an age of disruptive technology – the most disruptive time the automotive industry has seen in 100 years. Teasdel said the shift represents a great opportunity for South Carolina.

We cannot turn on cruise control. We have to put our foot on the gas.Ashely Teasdel, SC Deputy Secretary of Commerce

Teasdel called Argo AI a “trailblazer” and a “transformational” company. She said in order to recruit new companies like Argo AI, our state has to be ready. An asset like SC-TAC is a good example of being ready, according to Deputy Secretary Teasdel.

Greenville Area Development Corporation President and CEO, Mark Farris, agreed. He said investments made decades ago in facilities like SC-TAC and Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research are finally paying dividends.

Both, Farris said, are forward-thinking examples of “If you build it, they will come.”

Jody Bryson, the visionary president and CEO of SC-TAC, led a “fireside chat” with Knox White, the man he calls “everyone’s favorite mayor” and Argo AI’s Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, Summer Fowler.

Bryson gave Mayor White credit for strategic initiatives that have made Greenville what it is today.

Among other things, Bryson cited the mayor’s role in the removal of the Camperdown Bridge, commissioning the Liberty Bridge, bringing pro baseball to downtown, blazing the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and recently opening Unity Park.

Argo AI’s Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, Summer Fowler lives and works in Pittsburgh – a place Mayor White said Greenville city leaders have visited several times to see how another former one-industry town found a way to reinvent itself.

The mayor said when he was growing up, nearly everyone in Greenville was in textiles. He said in 1967, before the collapse of the textile industry here, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce took what was, at the time, a controversial stand by advocating for a more diversified economy.

The Chamber’s first big win in diversification, the mayor said, was General ElectricMichelin and BMW followed. Mayor White anticipates looking back on the Argo AI announcement as another big moment in building a diverse economy.

Summer Fowler was visiting Greenville for the first time. She said the city is the birthplace of the next phase in Argo AI’s innovation.

Jody Bryson asked Fowler to share what Greenville needs to know about her company. Fowler said Argo AI will always put safety first. The company’s founders, she said, believe in using their disruptive technology for good. Fowler said as hard as developing autonomous technology is, gaining people’s trust in the tech is an even bigger challenge.

In Austin and Miami, Argo has formed advisory boards to help build trust between the company and the community. Advisory board members, Fowler said, serve as ambassadors for Argo, but they also teach the company about their community and what’s important to the people who live there. Fowler said Argo intends to do the same kind of outreach in Greenville. “We need to know what your concerns are,” she said.

Fowler said Argo AI doesn’t want to take drivers off the road. She said the company wants to make roads safer and give people more choices. The drive to see Argo AI succeed hits close to home for Fowler, whose oldest child is now learning to drive.

Leaders from the City of Greenville pose with officials from Argo AI during a celebration at the Greenville Country Club.

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Michelle Willis

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