Two new partnerships in Aiken will bring new opportunities in the areas of education and business development. The initiatives were introduced at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce's annual State of Our Community program on Wednesday.

Catie Rabun, president of the new firm Caradasa LLC, is working with USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan to establish The Mill on Park at the corner of Park Street and Laurens Street in downtown Aiken – a new office community intended to connect with USCA's students and faculty. The Mill on Park will offer a one-person start-up company a place to find roots, Rabun said.

In the other partnership announced, Aiken Technical College President Dr. Susan Winsor is working with the nearby Midland Valley Preparatory Charter School to begin this month an instructional program in collaboration with the school's new principal, Patti Strom. The project will invite Midland Valley's eighth-graders to ATC to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Mill on Park is under renovation, and the 19,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open in early 2014, Rabun said. An established business of about 20 people could benefit from shared expenses to reduce overhead costs, she said.

Rabun said she has dreamed about the endeavor for several years.

“After gauging the market and seeing the need for a different type of office community in Aiken, finding an ideal location for it and now working with USC Aiken as a partner, it's clear that this is a project that has the potential to change the face of small business in Aiken,” Rabun said,

The Mill on Park can help USCA provide a greater presence in the downtown area and can connect university students to the community, Jordan said. The project also can service the region's business needs. The chancellor wants to see her students interact with entrepreneurs and innovators in such roles as internships and research opportunities.

“This partnership also fits well with our plans next fall to offer a MBA program for individuals with liberal arts or science/technology backgrounds,” Jordan said. “Having USC Aiken students studying and working downtown is a great next step in the history of our campus.”

Aiken Technical College and Midland Valley Prep will launch a three-month pilot for 22 eighth-graders, calling it STEM Academy. The students will get a foundational knowledge of STEM career pathways to supplement their regular curriculum. The students will visit ATC three hours a week.

Winsor said, “The STEM Academy is designed to help eighth-grade students gain an understanding of how STEM concepts are applied in a variety of career settings, and to open their eyes to potential career opportunities that they may not have previously considered.”

Educators, parents, teachers and communities must accept the responsibility to educate students and also to inspire students to learn in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, Strom said.

She expressed pride in announcing that Midland Valley Prep “is pairing with Aiken Technical College to provide a newly designed STEM program that will offer our students a unique experience and exposure to the STEM career areas.”

The Mill on Park firm, Rabun said, will provide leases that will be structured in a way that provides short-term options for those testing the waters. Businesses can utilize adaptable spaces and shared conference rooms.

Rabun serves as the project manager at Hammond's Ferry and decided to form a company focused on urban renovation and revitalization.

“I was interested to sink teeth in the Aiken community,” Rabun said. “This project with USCA will be our pilot.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.