On the wintry morning of January 24th, 1848 mill worker James Marshall inspected the days’ lumber for silt and debris along the Sacramento River in the small, wooded outpost of Coloma, California. During his morning inspection a shimmer caught his eye within the debris. Small amounts of a shiny metal had been exposed by the river currents and upon further testing he and his employer John Sutter realized what they had discovered; gold.
That little shimmer in the water ultimately lead to the transformation of the entire region. Neighboring San Francisco grew from 500 residents in 1847 to 150,000 full time residents in 1870. To meet the demand of the increased population merchants, traders, and investors flocked to the region to buy, sell and trade goods. The bustling activity had a resounding impact, fundamentally changing California from a little-known, back-country territory to a global symbol for opportunity and new-beginning.
Although gold was never discovered on the east coast in those quantities, there have been shimmers of an economic gold that have been catching the eye of those looking for the next big rush. That shimmery glint happens to be shining from right here in Charleston which has slowly been exposed by travel magazines like Conde Nast and TV shows like Southern Charm. They seek to highlight Charleston’s lifestyle, tourism and natural beauty. More recently though excitement has shifted to our developing economy, specifically, our accelerated growth in the technology and manufacturing sectors that has investors smitten with Charleston.
High Profile Companies Moving to Charleston
The most recent high profile company to invest in the Charleston region is Volvo which made headlines last week announcing their plans to build a $500 million assembly plant near Ridgeville, South Carolina just 40 miles from Charleston. Construction for the new plant is slated for fall which will eventually employ about 4,000 people and will be operational in 2018. Meanwhile Wells Fargo announced in February that they selected Charleston as the new commercial hub for their eastern operations office. According to Business Wire:
“Increased demand for Wells Fargo products and services from the region’s companies – including the manufacturing, agribusiness, healthcare, hospitality, and commercial real estate sectors – spurred Wells Fargo’s expansion in Charleston, according to Stan Gibson, head of Commercial Banking for the Carolinas.”
Last month South Carolina state treasurer Curtis Loftis met with 16 state treasurers and business tycoon Donald Trump near the historic market in downtown Charleston to discuss policies that will entice financial and tech services to invest in Charleston. Many of the executives own second homes in Charleston or have vacationed here before including Trump himself. He had this to say about Charleston, “I think Charleston is a fantastic place… becoming an unbelievable tourist destination, one of the finest in the country, and I like Charleston very much”.
However, many companies saw the potential of the Charleston economy long beforehand and invested in it early. Boeing, a multinational airplane manufacturer, opened its plant in North Charleston back in 2011 and employs about 6,700 people. Late last year they announced plans to expand the plant to accommodate the manufacturing of the new 787 Dreamliner aircraft which will create hundreds of additional jobs.
Charleston Port Fastest Growing in U.S.
One of the key reasons Volvo chose to build their manufacturing plant near Charleston is the port. BMW already moves about 800 cars everyday through the port of Charleston along with cargo from Daimler, Goodyear and Westinghouse. With an efficient track record and low congestion compared to northern ports, Charleston seemed like a no-brainer to Volvo. In a recent Post and Courier article:
“It’s the perfect spot for Volvo to bring its supplies to the U.S. while shipping American-made cars to the rest of the world. Proximity to a port is critical to automotive manufacturing and we are a proven leader in the automotive sector on the East Coast.”
Charleston ranked 7th overall according to the North America Port Logistics Annual Report and the fastest growing in the nation. The report ranks the top 15 ports based on port infrastructure capabilities and strength of industrial real estate market. The economic impact from increased port activity will fuel job growth as companies look to expand. Charleston already has a significantly lower unemployment rate at 5.4% than that of the state which sits close to 7%.
The Silicon Harbor of the Southeast
Charleston has been dubbed “Silicon Harbor” by the tech community thanks to its accelerated growth in the technology sector driven by smart start-ups and digital entrepreneurs that are flourishing in the area. Back in 2001 the “digital corridor” was added as a city department whose sole purpose was to help fledgling start ups find clients, network with other businesses and to serve as voice to city council. In 2009 the digital corridor opened its Flagship building which provides short-term office space, resources, and networking opportunities for promising start-ups. The goal is to provide a collaborative work environment for early stage companies to foster innovation and creativeness.
Several start-ups credit the digital corridor for their success including one of the first residents, Nate Dapore who is founder of People Matter, a human resource software company who has been wildly successful and has since expanded to Atlanta. Meanwhile Boomtown, an advanced real estate web platform, was named “One of The Best Places to Work” by Outside Magazine in 2013 and top 100 fastest growing software companies by Inc. Magazine growing to 140 employees and recently raising an additional $20 million for further growth. Blue Acorn is another product of the Charleston digital corridor who went from 9 employees in 2011 to over 100 this year. Their eCommerce design and development start-up recently took home Top Honor at the 2015 Magenta Imagine Commerce Conference.
To celebrate the growing tech community DIG South was announced in 2013 which was the region’s first ever interactive festival that brought creative start ups, entrepreneurs, venture capital firms and investors together for a 3 day event to celebrate technology, innovation, design, culture, social media and everything digital. This unique festival featured a robust live music schedule from local and national artists, food vendors, and drinks. From the Charleston Regional Business Journal:
“The 2015 Dig Conference in late April and early May had 1,470 registered attendees, up 226% from 450 registered attendees in 2013. And these figures don’t include several thousand people who attended free events such as the space walk tour of local tech firms and the nightly concerts.”
DIG South has made a name for itself in Charleston and has grown over the past 2 years to include presenters from some of the hottest tech companies including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Kickstarter. The festival is looking to expand again next year offering more live events, artists and more.
With exposure from these unique events combined with investment from major manufacturing and tech companies, Charleston’s future looks golden in its own right. These new developing industries will help diversify our local economy which has relied heavily on tourism for the bulk of its revenue. With a bright outlook its no wonder why 46 people are moving to Charleston everyday.
If you are thinking about buying a home in Charleston, have questions about the buying or selling process or just don’t know where to start, contact me anytime:
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