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Opinion: To Accelerate Success in South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry, Look to International Talent

By David Stefanich, Zach Bastarache, and Chris Richardson

The life sciences industry in South Carolina is at a pivotal moment. No industry has grown as fast (42% since 2017) or attracted as many new businesses (1,000+) to the Palmetto State. Just last week, hundreds of life sciences leaders from across America and around the world poured into Greenville for the annual life sciences conference hosted by SCbio, a statewide non-profit economic development organization, building South Carolina’s life sciences industry.

South Carolina is hot on the heels of bio hubs like Boston, Washington D.C., and New York, with the industry pouring an estimated $26 billion into the state’s economy and supporting over 87,000 jobs. South Carolina is a leading catalyst of the life sciences industry nationally, positively impacting our entire state. The promise of new medical breakthroughs and technological discoveries are powering the local economy – and employers are being stretched to develop innovative talent development strategies to fuel the growth and success of their businesses.

The problems facing our sector are good problems to have – though the stress of critical jobs going unfilled can impact an organization’s speed to execute on its growth strategy. Today, there are 172,000 open jobs in South Carolina and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.9%. This challenge requires a shift in thinking and the willingness to embrace and harness underleveraged pools of talent.

With a concerning dip in South Carolina graduates entering STEM careers, we require a tangible and highly skilled solution to continue our momentum that pulls talent into the state. Along with utilizing workforce development programs, there is a pool of talent readily available to meet the needs of growing companies including international talent already studying in the United States. This untapped pipeline is teeming with individuals who have come to learn, advance socioeconomically, and contribute to their newfound community – and with 40% of graduate enrollments in STEM degrees as international students, this population is sizeable, growing and ready to go.

But despite these many benefits, employers we speak to and partner with tell us that the most significant barrier to hiring international talent through the optional practice training (OPT) program, which allows visa-holding students to stay in the U.S. and work after they graduate, is twofold: It requires ensuring students are prepared for the U.S. workforce so they can stay in these positions for the long term and, it means managing the often complex immigration process necessary to keep them on the job.  

Smoothing those friction points for international talent and employers, sharpening the relevant skills required for success in the life sciences industry, and placing candidates in long-term vital roles are crucial to building these sectors to their full potential and closing the workforce gaps. Finding experienced partners in the talent mobility world who understand these challenges and take on the task of curating and connecting companies with talent is key.

To help Rymedi fill several key positions, Greenville-based BDV Solutions, which is dedicated to reducing the chronic labor shortages in this state and beyond, introduced Rymedi to inSpring, which is focused on transforming the education to career pipeline.

Using the OPT model has a real-world impact, as these examples of Rymedi team members illustrate:

  • Omar – Omar is a passionate and hardworking example of the American Dream playing out in 2023. Born in Iraq, he moved to Turkey in 2013. His goal all along was to come to America to pursue his career and education. He was able to achieve this dream when he attended Maharishi International University based in Fairfield Iowa in 2022 after working very hard to receive. When asked why America he stated he wanted to meet people and professionals from different backgrounds, theologies, mindsets, and upbringing. The ability to come to the US and find new experiences and ways of thinking excites him. His passion for technology, specifically development is unmatched, and his energy is palpable regarding the opportunity. He loves Greenville and moved within a week of his offer being accepted.  
    • “I consider Zach from inSpring as a friend. Every time I see him, I hug him. Rymedi is another story. I will never forget Rymedi because they are the first company that opened their doors for me. Especially Mr. David (Stefanich) he’s a very good guy and he trusted me. I consider this company my family. I tell my friends and family how many times we eat with each other and get together as a team and how much that means to me.
  • Sergii – Sergii is a Ukranian refugee and is an example of a diamond in the rough. An extremely technical and proficient developer, even with language barriers he has been a major asset for  Rymedi. His wealth of knowledge not only impresses his colleagues but also the leadership team. From war torn Ukraine to coaching and setting an example for the younger international developers on his teams. He found his way to the US in early 2023 and struggled to find work with language and unfamiliarity to the US work ecosystem creating barriers to entry. inSpring worked with him and our clients to find the right role and resources to help him and his family adjust to the US working world. He is now delivering outstanding work for Rymedi and has an incredible career ahead of him as an IT leader.
    • “Moving from my home country presented some challenges, mainly related to adapting to a new work culture and environment. BDV Solutions, InSpring, and Rymedi were supportive throughout the transition. They provided valuable information, language support, cultural insights, assistance with documentation, and a welcoming atmosphere that made the relocation process more manageable.”
  • Aditya – Aditya was born in India and emigrated to the US in 2021 to start his master’s degree at the University of North Texas. Aditya is a proficient and experienced developer with over 5 years of development experience. Even with his impressive resume and desired skillsets in the US he struggled to find employment in early 2023. After applying to over 200 roles, he was contacted by inSpring about an opportunity at Rymedi. With a goal of working in healthcare IT, he jumped on the opportunity and hasn’t looked back. He is quickly rising through the ranks and has impressed his leadership team with his technical knowledge and collaborative nature. He feels that Rymedi is the right place for him to contribute to society through developing IT for healthcare. 
    • “At Rymedi, the work culture is amazing. They have accomplished many things to set the standard in the industry. Here, I get to work with the latest technology. I really like the open and collaborative work team and how everyone is ready to help each other to accomplish our goals. At inSpring, Zach helped me with everything I needed as I transitioned into my new job.” 

Nowhere is there more concentrated energy and scalability potential than in the life sciences industry in South Carolina. From Greenville to Columbia to Charleston, technology and biosciences leaders are clamoring for talent to achieve that big breakthrough, and expanding their candidate pools to include international talent is the solution to get them there. Identifying and harnessing this highly mobile pipeline, providing them with critical training to meet job demands, and directly connecting them with ready-to-hire employers in this sector is the streamlined system to close gaps in economic vulnerabilities, meet demand, and make South Carolina home to the next society-changing discovery in the life sciences.

David Stefanich is co-founder and CEO of Rymedi, a healthcare data exchange platform, and Chairman of SCBio, a statewide, non-profit life sciences industry association in South Carolina.  

Zach Bastarache is the VP of Technology of inSpring, a Boston-based company helping U.S. employers respond to labor shortage challenges in the nursing and tech sector nationwide

Chris Richardson is COO and General Counsel at BDV Solutions, a Greenville-based consulting firm that provides American businesses and school districts access to an untapped network of global talent by leveraging visa categories for hard to fill roles.

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.