The Carolinas Concentrate on Nuclear Energy North and South Carolina businesses cluster together to be a leader in the nuclear energy industry.

By Catherine Clifford

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Editor's Note: This series takes a close-up look at the SBA's economic "clusters" designed to aid regional businesses. Read the first installment on Minnesota.

The Carolinas have gorgeous beaches that attract tourists from across the country, some of the most competitive college basketball fans in their league, legendary pork barbeque, and, perhaps less well-known across the country, a dominant and growing nuclear energy industry.

North and South Carolina together supply 11.5 percent of the entire nation's nuclear energy. While controversial for its alleged risk, supporters of nuclear energy say it is a sustainable energy source that doesn't harm the environment as severely as burning coal does. North Carolina gets 32 percent of its total electricity from five nuclear reactors currently in operation in the state. And South Carolina gets 52 percent of its electric power from its seven nuclear facilities.

Because there are so many nuclear power facilities in the Carolinas, 54 business leaders, non-profits and academic institutions have banded together to form the Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster, now part of the Small Business Administration's regional cluster program.

In the past two years, the SBA has awarded $1.2 million to the Columbia, S.C., network, one of 10 regional clusters in a pilot program designed to increase small-business involvement and create jobs. As a result of the two-year project, the Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster says it has created 437 jobs, in addition to launching a number of business-development initiatives that will likely translate into jobs in coming years.

When you think "nuclear energy," it's hard to imagine how a small business could crack into the industry dominated by the likes of Duke Energy and SCANA Corp. Not so. "I don't want people to think this is only a land of big business," says Scott Carlberg, manager of the Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster.

Small businesses generally participate in the nuclear industry by supplying parts to the giant multinationals that do the actual construction and processing. For entrepreneurs interested in selling goods to bigger companies in the industry, the cluster has held approximately eight "supplier sessions," where small businesses learn how they will need to tighten their standards to participate in the nuclear industry, Carlberg says.

Also, the Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster has provided on-site advice to small-business owners interested in transitioning their facility to serve the nuclear industry. Because of the stiff regulations involved, it takes a significant modification of existing facilities to be up to code. "If you can conform to the quality specs of nuclear, that helps your entire operation improve in quality, so that is a good thing," says Carlberg.

The Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster has also directed its SBA funding to its Leadership Energy Carolinas program for upcoming industry leaders. Industry professionals between the ages of 23 and 45 are nominated by their cluster-member-business to participate in the one-year professional development program.

Related: How Industry Clusters Can Spur Small-Business Growth

One small business that's benefited is RCS Nuclear of Charlotte, N.C. Back in 1997, RCS was an environmental and engineering services company with revenue of $5 million a year. Now, RCS has specialized to become a professional staffing company specifically for the nuclear industry, and annual revenue tops $30 million. Being part of the cluster helped RCS Nuclear develop stronger relationships with nuclear clients, says Karen Garcia, a co-owner. Also, the Leadership Energy Carolinas has helped train its staff, she says.

And for industrial supply house Carotek in Matthews, N.C., being a member of the cluster has meant increased industry exposure for its 100-plus-employee business. A relatively new member of the cluster, family-owned Carotek will be hosting an upcoming Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster meeting at its facility. And being part of the cluster also helped Carotek drum up attendees for the company's recent trade show, Carlberg says.

Do you belong to a regional network or trade group, and how has it helped your business? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Related: In Monterey Bay, an Agricultural Tech Cluster Blossoms

Wavy Line
Catherine Clifford

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

Editor's Pick

A Father Decided to Change When He Was in Prison on His Son's Birthday. Now His Nonprofit Helps Formerly Incarcerated Applicants Land 6-Figure Jobs.
A Teen Turned His Roblox Side Hustle Into a Multimillion-Dollar Company — Now He's Working With Karlie Kloss and Elton John
3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff
The Next Time Someone Intimidates You, Here's What You Should Do
5 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health and Regulate Your Nervous System for Sustainable Success

Related Topics

Starting a Business

Starting a New Business? Here's How to Leverage Transferable Skills From Your Prior Careers and Drive Success

Launching your own business can be daunting, but when you harness the skills from past jobs, there are a variety of things you must ask yourself. Here are three recipes for success using your prior experiences.

Business News

'Do You Hate Me?': High School Teacher Shares Wild Emails He Receives From Students

Jordan Baechler teaches high school students in Ontario, Canada.

Data & Recovery

This Father's Day, Give the Gift of No More Low Storage Warnings

Save 85% on 1TB of cloud storage for Father's Day.

Employee Experience & Recruiting

Don't Let These 11 Job Interview Myths Stop You From Getting Hired

The interview process is constantly changing — adapting to current employee-employer trends. Here's our latest list of what you should keep in mind the next time you are interviewed (or interviewing).