Setting Sail on a New Career in Silicon Harbor

A wall of plaques recognizes the companies that have set up shop in one of the Charleston Digital Corridor’s two Flagship business incubators.

You’ve graduated from college and are working in the wonderful urban coastal setting that is Charleston, South Carolina. You may be thinking, “I wish I did not have to leave Charleston to advance in my specialty.” Or, “I wonder if there are other tech companies where I could get ahead, in Charleston? I like it here!” Well, the good news is, Charleston isn’t just about careers in tourism, hospitality, wedding planning, and historic preservation, with a few well-known tech companies thrown in. According to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA), high-tech industry job opportunities are growing like wildfire in the Metro Charleston area.

Charleston ranks 4th highest in the nation for high-tech industry output; there are about 200 tech-focused companies in Charleston now. The city has even been referred to as “Silicon Harbor.” The growth rate for employment in the tech industry in Charleston rivals that of Raleigh, NC and Austin, TX. Growth in Charleston is 26% faster than the national average for the industry, according to the Post and Courier. As the CRDA states, Charleston offers a “collaborative creative community” and a “supportive entrepreneurial network.” It also mentions Charleston’s start-up friendly environment, technology conferences, meet-ups, co-working spaces, and user groups. A profile of the growing opportunities in information technology in the Charleston area, and a brief accompanying video, are available on the Charleston Regional Development Alliance’s website. Drawing on graduates of studies in Cybersecurity or Computer and Information Sciences from the College of Charleston and The Citadel, as well as from other institutions across the state, companies located in the Charleston area have a large pool of skilled talent right at their fingertips. Some of these graduates have made a successful transition from liberal arts undergraduate degrees, for example, to graduate degrees and certificates in this high tech field in high demand. Today’s tech-focused workers in Charleston are not limited by their undergraduate majors giving them a strong foundation in communications and critical skills thinking.

The millennial population has exploded too, increasing by 58% between 2000 and 2012, a higher increase than Denver, Nashville, and Houston can boast. Furthermore, the Brookings Institution has ranked Charleston No. 12 in the nation for venture capital, “first funding” companies, which are often started by and/or employ millennials.

Local companies that are growing, thriving, and hiring graduates with a technology background include Blackbaud, Bosch, Boeing, Cummins, BoomTown, Benefitfocus, BiblioLabs, PeopleMatter, SPARC, and Google. Volvo has decided to locate its North American headquarters and manufacturing in Metro Charleston, and like the others has its share of tech-focused jobs. Why did Volvo choose Charleston? Its website states that the decision was based on “easy access to international ports and infrastructure, a well-trained labor force, an attractive investment environment, and experience in the high-tech manufacturing sector.”

Another website to investigate: A public-private partnership called the Charleston Digital Corridor (CDC)  is at the center of the high-tech explosion in the area, especially downtown. It offers start-up companies advice, talent, working spaces and capital. Its website boasts, “Since 2009, the CDC has graduated 76 start-ups in its incubator spaces (called “Flagships”). Ernest Andrade, Executive Director of CDC, points out: “Charleston has captured a disproportionate share of technological opportunities for graduates with degrees in Computer and Information Science.” He adds that Charleston’s marketplace will continue to demand additional talent in the high-tech industry. So, whether a graduate wants to work in a huge firm or a start-up with two people doing everything, Metro Charleston is an excellent place to start, or advance, a tech-focused career.

Over the next five years, our region of the state will create nearly 26,000 new jobs, with the greatest growth rate in software & IT at 20% over 2015, or 10,700 new jobs. Growth in manufacturing jobs ranks second, at 18% over the period, adding 18,300 new positions. In the high-tech sector alone, the largest shortages in local talent are projected among software developers, IT security analysts, and network administrators, according to Avalanche Consulting. To help fill this gap between supply and demand, the Lowcountry Graduate Center is adding new program offerings from a variety of institutions. Graduates interested in pursuing the advanced degrees that may be necessary for these “hot” jobs can check out the list of programs available at the Lowcountry Graduate Center. These graduate degrees and academic certificates include Computer and Information Science, Cybersecurity, and Project Management which can lead to high-paying, secure and satisfying careers here in Charleston. A graduate certificate in software engineering is in development for offering in 2017. Classes are conveniently held at the Center in North Charleston, with spacious, free parking and high-tech classrooms.

By Stancy Merwin