Bobby Hitt understands South Carolina's
technology movement. The Commerce Department secretary sees it every day in his
own family, with his youngest son working in the coding field.
"We're starting to see this
grow, we're starting to see this move," he said. "These are people who are
coming to work with flip-flops on with their laptop. And they're generating and
working on contracts worth millions of dollars."
Growing the number of those flip-flop-clad
workers will come through further collaboration, Hitt and other area technology
leaders said Wednesday during IT-oLogy's annual IT Summit. "This is not about reinventing
the wheel, it's not about being redundant," said Lonnie Emard, IT-oLogy
president. "We've got to be smarter about what limited resources we have. ...
Everybody is picking their piece that is a niche and saying, 'You do this well,
I do this well.' What happens when we connect those dots?"
That ideology is starting
in the school systems and working its way up to the business level, said state
Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. Companies such as Boeing approached
education leaders asking for more characteristic development than mere content
knowledge, she said, with desired traits ranging from collaboration and
problem-solving to punctuality, proper work attire and peer-to-peer
The state education system
has instilled a variety of approaches to teach those skills. Schools are
incorporating STEM learning –- a hands-on problem-solving technique that focuses
on science, technology, engineering and math –- and one-to-one computing, which
gives each student an electronic device for access to the Internet and course
"When you walk in a real
progressive classroom, you don't see all the students sitting in rows anymore,"
Spearman said. "You see them engaged, collaborating around tables, on projects
on the couch."
Those skill sets will allow
students to transition into the technology workforce with greater ease, Hitt
said. That is essential for a state that is the nation's top producer and
exporter of tires and No. 1 exporter of automobiles, he added.
Hitt said the number of
information technology jobs in South Carolina has increased by 45% over the
past decade, with the need and demand for STEM-educated students to grow by
100% in the next three years.
"We're collaborating from
the state, to the counties, into the school districts and beyond," he said.
"We're having an impact. And having an impact is what we all need to be
thinking about doing."
"Twenty years ago, kids in
this state coming out of high school weren't thinking about careers in complex
manufacturing or complex business," he added. "Today, kids coming out of high
school never knew a time where BMW wasn't here."
These collaborations are helping to grow the
industry statewide. Rock Hill Economic and Urban Development Director Stephen
Turner touted the area's Knowledge Park, a new hub for knowledge economy businesses,
while Greenville lauded the upcoming Next High School,
a technology-centered, collaborative charter school opening this year.
Bill Kirkland, the University of South
Carolina's executive director in the Office of the Economic Engagement,
showcased the school's new applied computing minor, part of a statewide initiative,
and the new innovation centercreated alongside IBM and Fluor.
The industry also continues
to grow in Charleston, where the technology field now makes up 5% of the
regional economy, according to Ernest Andrade, the founder and director of the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation. Over 300 tech companies now call
the area home, with 45% of them currently hiring at wages almost two times the
regional per capita.
The city of Charleston's two largest occupants
of commercial space are also tech companies: Blackbaud and Benefitfocus.