Charleston's technology industry might be growing at a healthy pace, but wages still appear to be lagging behind the South's larger tech hubs.
The actual size of the pay gap is debatable. Different data sources offer different estimates of how much tech employees earn, based on factors ranging from job titles to the metro areas where they work.
And while analysts are keeping a keen eye on the industry's growth in Charleston, many still don't consider the local labor pool big enough to offer an apples-to-apples comparison to areas with large and established tech-driven work forces, places like Austin, Boston, New York and Silicon Valley.
The absence of a Fortune 500 employer is likely one part of the drag, said Stanfield Gray, co-founder and CEO of the media firm Dig South. Also, the region lacks a top-tier research school that churns out a steady talent stream of computer scientists and engineers.
All in all, though, local wages for the industry are in good shape, Gray said.
"Charleston is doing exceptionally well for the size of the market. I think we're punching above our weight," he said.
Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average annual pay for tech workers in the Charleston area is about $13,500 behind Raleigh and Atlanta.
But the Holy City is ahead of South Carolina as a whole, according to the federal agency. Tech industry employees also outstrip the overall local average wage by about $33,000.
Hired.com, a talent website that focuses on the tech industry, releases information about the highest wages in 10 U.S. cities. The only Southern town it selected is Austin. Hired.com found that employees in the Texas capital make the most in the country after adjusting for cost-of-living factors.
The Computing Technology Industry Association ranked South Carolina 39th in the country for what it pays tech industry workers. Wages grew by about 8 percent in the Palmetto State between 2011 and 2017, according to the trade group.
A local source of pay data suggests the BLS estimates are too low.
An annual survey from the Charleston Digital Corridor reports an average wage for tech workers in the area of about $91,000 in 2018, up from $86,000 the previous year and about $13,000 above the government's figures. The corridor says it canvasses area employers for detailed information about their pay scales.
The presence of the big software firms Blackbaud and Benefitfocus, both publicly traded companies based on Daniel Island, is helping to attract workers and drive salaries up, said Gray of Dig South. As the industry matures, hiring managers can continue to depend on Charleston's charm to lure the talent they need to fill openings.
"People will sometimes take a little bit less in order to live in such a desirable place," Gray said.
Chad Troutman, director of marketing for local startup Sentio, recently moved to Charleston after years in Boston's tech industry. Skilled workers are moving to the Lowcountry for the "fringe benefits," he said, and that could catapult the region into the ranks of the biggest, best-paying tech hubs.
For his part, Troutman said he has not had trouble offering recruits the pay they expect at Sentio.
"We’re doing a really good job attracting talent, based on something other regions can’t replicate," he said. "I see Charleston as a very obvious next Silicon Valley, and I know it will be with our own Southern charm."