Can a Promotional Web Portal Bring High-Tech Businesses to South Carolina?

The portal is intended to promote Rock Hill as both a technological and knowledge-economy hub, which includes careers in Internet technology, engineering, design, finance and marketing.

by David Thackham, The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.) / August 5, 2016

(TNS) -- For years, cities like Rock Hill, Gastonia, N.C., and Concord, N.C., have marketed themselves as cities near Charlotte in order to attract businesses.

Now, local officials are seeking to change the narrative.

The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. is hoping to unveil a new job portal website this fall that will try to attract high-tech businesses to the city – and keep white-collar workers from commuting to Charlotte for work.

"It's a chicken and the egg thing," said Stephen Turner, RHEDC executive director. "You can't have tech businesses to relocate here unless they can have talent, and you can't get talent to be here if companies aren't here. So we're trying to build up the credible argument that the talent is available here, but they're going elsewhere to work."

To that end, Turner said he has had positive communications with about 50 businesses who said they would be likely to post their job needs on the portal. Prospective employees would also be able to post their resume and information on the website.

Once the general website design is approved and developed in September, the office will likely begin rollout in November.

Turner said he'd like to see a few hundred businesses join the site over the course of the next two years in order to deem the idea a success.

The portal is intended to promote Rock Hill as both a technological and knowledge-economy hub. Knowledge-economy jobs are seen as careers in internet technology, engineering, design, finance and marketing.

Officials say their efforts are supported by last year's research study by the Social & Behavioral Research Lab at Winthrop University, which found that the city can support such jobs with the available workforce. The findings, overseen by lab director Scott Huffmon, determined that of more than 21,000 advanced knowledge workers who commute out of Rock Hill/York County, almost 65 percent of them would be willing to take a job in Rock Hill for the same salary.

"I was surprised at how many people with these sought-after skills that York County is losing every day," said Huffmon. "It makes me, frankly, that much more hopeful about South Carolina's growth."

Turner's office has already started the advertising campaign to promote the future portal –he's booked out spots along Interstate 77 with billboards that remind drivers of what they're missing back home. "You Could Have Hit Snooze" and "You Could Have Finished Your Coffee" read two mockups, with space to list the jobs page address.

The city is seeking to attract more businesses like SPAN Enterprises or Revenflo, according to the RHEDC head, which specialize in software development and website design and have offices in Rock Hill.

Focusing on "quality employment" is critical for growing the concept of Knowledge Park in Rock Hill, says Cathy Murphy, the city's downtown development manager. Developers and city officials have been detailing plans to build a mix of commercial properties and urban housing in the 23-acre area around the former site of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., also known as the Bleachery.

She said that she hopes the portal can be used by Winthrop University students in the near future.

"It can give businesses the pool of talent that are critical to the success of Knowledge Park," said Murphy. " It's a direct goal of Knowledge Park to create jobs.”

©2016 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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