The technology industry in the Lowcountry has created a resource in Charleston Open Source to attract skilled workers in the field. The tech sector in Greenville has built an incubator that promotes community among tech companies called “Next Innovation Center.” Other areas of the state have begun their own initiatives to support technology companies and other enterprises that use significant technology.
What South Carolina has lacked, says a state official, is a statewide perspective that promotes tech companies and tech jobs from one end of the state to the other.
Promoting the Tech Sector Statewide
Preston Grisham is director of TechSC, a months-old initiative of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, established to accelerate growth and innovation, and provide a unified voice, for the technology community across the Palmetto State. What the Farm Bureau does for agriculture, TechSC hopes to do for IT.
Grisham says the interests of disparate regions of South Carolina dovetail more than they might believe. For example, he says, BMW in the upstate has caused a trickle down the map effect, sparking an automotive industry buildout all the way down to Charleston. The arrival of Boeing prompted Trident Tech to train aerospace engineers and mechanics who can help Lockheed grow in Greenville.
“We have a robust ecosystem already here in the state,” he said. “Blackbaud is the largest publicly traded company in South Carolina and they’re a tech company.”
In fact, technology jobs comprise nearly six percent of the state workforce with 90,000 jobs at the end of 2018. The economic value of the tech sector hit $12.6 billion at that time.
Just Tech Firms
Technology is not just an industry category, Grisham notes; it touches every company. Financial and health care institutions, manufacturing companies and others are highly dependent on technology and highly skilled tech employees even though it isn’t their core business.
The growth in technology “highlights the need for lawmakers and colleges to increase the number of tech programs,” he said. That requires a statewide perspective.
Suzie Rybicki, Vice President of Talent & Training at PhishLabs, a Charleston-based cybersecurity company that provides curated intelligence and mitigation solutions, says that statewide advocacy aspect of TechSC could be tremendously helpful to the local tech sector. “Preston knows how to advocate and influence people at the state legislative level,” she said. “That’s where true change is going to happen.”
Building that broader network will expose the regional tech communities to people and ideas from the others. Grisham says this is the formula used by North Carolina for the last 28 years, helping the state remain in the forefront of attracting business and skilled workers.
TechSC serves as a statewide corollary to the Lowcountry’s Charleston Open Source, which has spent five years coordinating the recruitment of tech talent to the area. Rybicki says the local community’s tech sector is far ahead of those in the rest of South Carolina and has benefits to sell that no other part of the state can match.
A peek at the Charleston Open Source website reveals that unique aspects of Charleston life are a critical part of the draw for tech talent. Videos and resource guides laud the local cultural and culinary scenes; the laid-back zeitgeist; the 90 miles of beaches and ocean; the history and architecture, and the booming digital economy – community benefits mostly absent in other parts of the state.
“It’s a little different for us here locally because it’s so easy for us to sell Charleston,” said Rybicki. But she thinks the local tech community would be excited for anything statewide that could supplement the local recruitment effort. “If there is anything that Greenville, Columbia or another part of the state are having success with that we’re not already doing, we would love to learn those best practices,” she said.
The Lowcountry Graduate Center
The Lowcountry Graduate Center is a supporter of Charleston Open Source and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, having a mission aimed at developing a highly talented base of knowledge workers to fuel economic vitality of the Lowcountry while promoting community wellness and quality of life for all of its residents. With collaboration at the heart of how the LGC functions, it also embraces the valuable role played by TechSC in connecting regional players across the state.