March 2, 2021

Another Crisis – Another Silver Lining

Ernest Andrade  /  Charleston Digital Corridor

The Charleston Digital Corridor was launched in 2001 with three basic objectives – 1) raise per-capita wages, 2) deepen economic diversity and, 3) stimulate higher-wage job opportunities. Of these three, perhaps the most important is economic diversification. Why? Because economic diversity translates into economic resilience.

Twenty years and three recessions later, the Charleston region is the most economically resilient it has ever been. In an apt analogy, it has been somewhat vaccinated to better weather economic downturns, thanks in large part to the region's growing tech community. This is not to minimize or ignore the dent some industries and workers, i.e. hospitality, took during the past year. However, the health and resilience of the tech industry served to somewhat mitigate the overall impact.

Charleston's tech industry, comprised of approximately 500 companies, continues to grow at a steady and consistent pace and ironically, from my experience, many of Charleston's tech companies actually see job and income growth in the midst of challenging times such as we had. This is partly due to the elevated demand that occurs during such times for software and tech services aimed at aiding businesses in all industries increase the efficiency of their operations.

Another factor in the growth and resilience of Charleston's tech economy can be attributed to several macro employment trends I have observed which have actually been underway for many years but indeed appear to accelerate during times of crisis, in this case COVID-19. Here are three:

* Hiring remote
The need for qualified and skilled talent is constant. Companies seek and hire professionals irrespective of their geographic location. Charleston's growing talent pool, combined with an increasing number of quality job openings, livability and reasonable cost of living is directly responsible for the growth of the region's tech industry.

* Satellite offices
The relocation of senior company executives to Charleston for family or quality of life reasons end up forming satellite offices and then build up teams of high-performing local professionals engaged in strategic projects or services for the parent company.

* Distributed workforce
Companies are increasingly making the strategic decision to decentralize their operations and move or create teams or even whole departments in other locations to help ensure business continuity, improve customer relations/service and reduce turnover.

In the last few weeks, I have fielded calls from tech entrepreneurs currently based in New York, Seattle, Connecticut and Ohio, all of whom are in the process of relocating their businesses to Charleston. Thankfully, with the development of the Charleston Tech Center, and in conjunction with our partnerships with the City of Charleston, Charleston County and SC Department of Commerce, the Charleston Digital Corridor is well positioned to welcome these new businesses to our tech community.

I'm very pleased and gratified by the continuing success and growth of our member companies, and the tech community as a whole, even in periods of economic strife. So yes, I call that a real silver lining. The entrepreneurs win, the Charleston region wins and the fundamental merit of the Charleston Digital Corridor's original mission is again reaffirmed.