Charleston’s high-tech future

A wall in the Charleston Digital Corridor's Flagship 2 show some of the businesses that have passed through the incubator near Calhoun and East Bay streets on the peninsula. File/Wade Spees/Staff

It’s not on the same level as Silicon Valley just yet, but Charleston’s burgeoning tech sector — sometimes referred to as Silicon Harbor — is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.

A report last week in the Huffington Post cites a handful of studies and articles that show high-tech jobs booming in the Lowcountry.

The trend isn’t new — Charleston’s tech industry has been growing for years — but recent data offer a particularly optimistic outlook.

In fact, the sector is growing roughly 26 percent faster in Charleston than the national average, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

The number of local residents employed in the industry — more than 11,000 — puts the area on par with larger cities like Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C.

And the gradual proliferation of dedicated tech incubators, venture capital firms and startup programs in the Lowcountry suggests that growth could accelerate in the near future.

Charleston businesses now have the fourth highest level of access to venture capital per capita in the country, according to a Brookings Institute study released last year.

That’s great news for the local economy, since tech jobs tend to pay well and attract well-educated young people, creating a steady influx of cash and creativity.

Some of the factors that draw the sector to Charleston — good weather, friendly people, geographic proximity to major cities — will always be attractive. But more could be done to guarantee solid job growth in the future.

The Charleston area offers a variety of quality higher education options, but opportunities to study technology-related majors could be expanded, for example.

Potential startups might also benefit from close collaboration with the area’s other strong sectors like tourism, food and beverage and manufacturing.

Top broadband speeds in the Lowcountry lag behind other blossoming tech centers like Chattanooga and Provo, Utah. Building a fiber-optic network could make Charleston more competitive.

More broadly, cities that offer affordable urban housing, access to public transportation, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities tend to draw in more young professionals. Local leaders should make improvements in those areas a priority.

Charleston’s tech-sector growth thus far provides plenty of cause for celebration.

The future could be truly electrifying.