June 27, 2012

Charleston Business Says Being Cool Counts Toward Economic Development

Ashley Grubal Kritzer  /  Jacksonville Business Journal

If you ask at least one businessman in Charleston, S.C., there's no question that that city's cool factor has helped drive economic growth.

In Friday's print edition, we take a look at the intersection of cool and corporate, and at cities that have been successful in drawing both unique, small businesses and large employers.

Amy Holloway, president of Austin, Texas-based Avalanche Consulting, recently wrapped a nine-month consulting study for JaxUSA Partnership. I asked her about cities that have grown both their cool factors and their corporate sectors, she held up Charleston as one example.

Holloway has done consulting work for Charleston, too, but it doesn't take long for any outsider to see that the city is succeeding on both fronts.

It has a burgeoning culinary scene, a hub of technology businesses like BiblioLabs LLC as well as major employers like Boeing South Carolina and a Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) data center.

The city also backs the Charleston Digital Corridor, which is a resource to help recruit technology businesses.

Mitchell Davis is the founder of BiblioLabs, a digital publishing software company based in Charleston.

Davis and his business partners returned to Charleston after spending several years in Seattle. In 2005, they sold their former company, BookSurge, to Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), and were in Seattle for about two years, integrating that company into Amazon.

In 2007, Davis and his partners started BiblioLabs, which has 25 employees.

Davis said it's easier to find employees now than it was when he started BookSurge.

"Politically, there is a will here to sort of make Charleston a place that can attract technology," Davis said in a phone interview earlier this week. "It's become enormously easier for developer positions than it was 10 years ago, I think just because people are a little more apt to move their family and know that if job they're moving to doesn't work out, they can find another."

And that, Holloway said, is how a city's cool factor affects its economic development: By drawing in a young, talented workforce that's attractive to companies.

"Talent is the No. 1 site selection factor today. A company's going to go where there's talent," Holloway said. "And if you have a place that's a magnet, for say, like the 25-to-40-year-old group, companies are going to go to the source of that."