January 20, 2009

Charleston Digital Corridor Reports on Jobs and Investments in 2008

Staff Report  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

In its annual report for 2008, the Charleston Digital Corridor emphasized capital investment in local companies and plans for a research incubator lab as signs of progress for the knowledge economy. The average wage among its knowledge-based companies was more than double state and metro area wages, the organization reported. At $76,144, the Charleston Digital Corridor's average wage for 2008 was down from the $83,256 reported for 2007.

The Charleston Digital Corridor, created in 2001, is the city of Charleston's economic development initiative for the attracting and support of knowledge-based jobs. The "corridor" is actually four geographic districts in the city.

**Lower wages
**The average wage for South Carolina was $35,540 as of May 2007, the latest figures available from the U.S .Bureau of Labor Statistics, the corridor reported. For the Charleston metro area, the average wage was $34,650. The lower average wage reported for corridor jobs in 2008 is, in part, a reflection of the addition of jobs with more support functions as companies grow, said Ernest Andrade, director of the corridor organization.

"As companies expand, there is a little bit of a flattening out of their wage structure," Andrade said. "(For) a lot of them, the command and control structure is already in place." Startup companies, which might have low salaries, can bring down the average wage, too, he said.

Wage data, collected through a survey of companies affiliated with the Charleston Digital Corridor, also fluctuates depending on the companies responding.

Fewer jobs added
The number of companies relocating to Charleston slowed during 2008 compared with 2007, Andrade said, and that resulted in a lower number of new jobs added. During 2007, companies added 750 jobs within the Charleston Digital Corridor, according to that year's report. The 2008 annual report said the corridor gained 213 jobs.

"When you look at job growth and wage numbers, it's pretty safe to say that it's reasonably robust in a year that is challenging at best," Andrade said.

The annual report notes that companies in the corridor are hiring. Andrade said the companies have a total of 217 job openings. Digital corridor companies have a total of about 5,000 jobs, the group said.

**Positioning for the future
**The city organization is not scaling back its efforts in the slow economy, Andrade said. Plans to convert a former mattress factory in downtown Charleston into a research incubator lab is an example of the digital corridor's work to put infrastructure in place to expand the local knowledge economy when the nation's financial situation turns around, he said. The incubator project is a collaboration among the city, the Medical University of South Carolina and the S.C. Research Authority.

Among local companies receiving new capital investment in 2008, according to the annual report, were Myconostica Ltd., a medical diagnostic company; Sabal, a health care technology company; and Surya Biofertilizers, a producer of environmentally friendly fertilizer.