November 3, 2006

Tech Wages Rise Slightly

Kyle Stock  /  Post and Courier

Pay Still Nearly Double that of Average Lowcountry Worker, survey shows

Paychecks at local technology employers did not keep pace with inflation in the past 12 months, but they remained almost twice the area's average wage, according to a survey released Thursday by the city of Charleston.

The poll found that the nearly 5,500 workers at the 80 companies that comprise the city's Digital Corridor initiative will earn $ 66,583 this year on average, up slightly from $65,707 last year, a 1.3 percent increase. In comparison, the average wage in the Charleston metropolitan area this year is $35,024, according to the South Carolina Employment Security Commission's most recent figures.

"When you put it in context of the overall economy in South Carolina, it's huge," said Ernest Andrade, the city economic development official who heads the Digital Corridor. "These are folks who can locate anywhere they want to, and Charleston is a very attractive place."

Not every employer in the Digital Corridor participated in the wage poll. Only about 30 companies responded to the survey, and Blackbaud Inc., the area's biggest tech company, with more than 1,000 employees, was not one of them. The Digital Corridor also did not weigh the data based on company size. For example, the average wage at Benefitfocus. com Inc., a Daniel Island-based company with about 300 employees, is counted equally with that of Blue Ion LLC, a Web design and marketing firm with eight employees.

Many of the tech firms in the Charleston region fly under the radar, but some of the more high profile companies have had a banner year to date. For example, Benefitfocus cut the ribbon on a new 145,000-square foot headquarters last month. It's also been on a hiring tear, though it has said one of its biggest challenges now is finding qualified talent, such as software engineers. The company expects to double its payroll within three years. Another Charleston tech firm, NanoScreen Inc., which makes specialized lab equipment, also recently moved into a new headquarters and beefed up staffing.

Andrade said the small increase in average salary levels is an example of the tech industry reaching a critical mass in Charleston. "You actually have companies now competing for talent," Andrade said. "Previously, you would have people relocate and they were hostage to the company where they were employed."

The pay increases in Charleston reflected nation trends. Yoh, a Philadelphia-based staffing company that Fortune 500 firms use to set salaries, said wages at hightech U. S. companies were up 1.4 percent in the third quarter of this year, compared with the year-earlier period.

Counting on the Digital Corridor intiative

80 - Companies in Charleson's Digital Corridor initiative

5,500 - Number of Digital Corridor employees

$66,583 - Average wage earned by Digital Corridor employees

1.3% - Amout those wages increased from last year

$35,024 - Average wage for the metropolitan area

2 times - Amount technology paychecks outstrip average area wages

Source: City of Charleston survey