Charleston makes high-tech pitch with digital corridor

The State
Joe Guy Collier, Staff Writer
February 1, 2002

The City of Charleston, best known for its history and charm, is making a bid to become a center for technology development.

The city last year started an effort called the “Charleston Digital Corridor” designed to lure technology companies.

Civic leaders realized the need to make Charleston attractive to technology companies, said Ernest Andrade, the city’s assistant director of economic development and director of the Digital Corridor.”If you believe the strength of an economy is in its diversity,” Andrade said, “then to diversify an economy into these high-paying, high-skilled jobs will ultimately further the well-being of the city.

“Charleston City Council passed several key incentives for technology companies. They include:

• Reducing business license fees for technology companies.
• Exempting certain expansions and relocations by technology companies from city property taxes for five years.
• Streamlining the permitting process.
• Waving city fees associated with the renovation of qualified building.

In addition to the tax incentives, the Digital Corridor developed creative ways to help technology companies.Special “Corridor Bikes” are available to help employees pedal around the downtown.Andrade also puts new firms in touch with utilities, telecommunications companies, and other infrastructure providers.

In one case, Andrade worked out a deal with a downtown furniture store to provide a tech company with parking spaces at a reduced rate.

“We take a cafeteria approach,” Andrade said. “You tell me what you want and we will get it for you.”

Joe Bryan, founder and partner of Internet development and media firm Sans Locus, said the Digital Corridor initiative brought him to downtown Charleston.Byran’s six-person company has offices on Meeting Street in the heart of the historic district.

“There’s nothing like it,” Bryan said. “I walk to work each morning from the parking lot and hear the sounds of the city. ”

Through an agreement with another company, Sans Locus was able to get the office space for a monthly rent of about $11 a square foot, $8 less than market value.

The city also directed San Locus toward special low-interest loan programs and a grant program to purchase start-up equipment.

“We feel like we’ve benefited significantly from the open arms of both private and public officials here,” Bryan said.

Andrade said the results of the Digital Corridor probably won’t be seen for several years. Still, the city is trying to give technology companies tangible reasons for locating in Charleston.

With an established reputation as a tourist destination, the city offers a lot to technology companies, Andrade said.

“I’m convinced we have sharpened our focus to take advantage of the trends,” he said.

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