Learn how plans by Google's selection of Charlotte, N.C., for its gigabit Google Fiber Internet network will boost technoology entrepreneurship in Charlotte USA.
The Carolinas’ tech industry is growing rapidly, and the Charlotte USA region – with its financial services sector acting as a catalyst – is one of the prime sources of that growth.
“A lot of IT people come to the Charlotte area because they are hired by the banks. When after a few years they want to further advance their IT career, they don’t have to move. They can stay here,” says Michael Praeger, CEO of AvidXchange, a Charlotte-based provider of automated invoicing and payment processes for mid-market companies.
“There’s a lot of software talent centered around the banks. The talent stays here because the area offers a lot and has many different lifestyles. Plus, we have homegrown talent who were educated at our universities,” Mike Feldman, CEO of Charlotte-based T1Visions, whose cutting-edge company designs interactive touchscreen tables, touchscreen walls, digital signage, and mobile device apps.
A Growing Presence
The North Carolina Technology Association published its first annual state of technology report in early 2015. It found that the state’s employment growth in technology was 7.1 percent, ranking it sixth in the nation. The report predicted the rate will double in the next five years, faster than the country as a whole. That growth is driven, in part, by the state’s top ranking for state funding for public research universities (per full-time student or equivalent). North Carolina also ranks ninth for growth in high-tech establishments and eighth for startups coming out of universities.
In 2013, NCTA reported that more than 16,000 technology establishments were operating in North Carolina, and the rate of new ones being established ranked among the top 15 states and was trending upward. According to information from the Charlotte Chamber, about 3,000 of them were in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia Metropolitan Statistical Area. Several of those companies were named to the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing companies, including AvidXchange, T1 Visions and Ettain Group, an IT staffing and consulting company.
AvidXchange is a homegrown company that got its start in 2000. In January 2015, it moved into a new, 115,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in the Queen City and announced it will quadruple its workforce to 800 employees by the end of 2018.
“I call the Charlotte area the Silicon Valley of the South – it’s a hidden gem,” Praeger says. “There are cost advantages of growing a software company here; people want to move here; we’ve got a great educational base at UNC Charlotte for research and academics; and we have a robust airport and transportation system.”
AvidXchange is not the area’s only tech company in an expansion mode. Velocity Technology Solutions, a provider of cloud application hosting for enterprises and business software, moved its global headquarters to Charlotte from New York City in fall 2014, and Aramark Healthcare Technologies opened a new Healthcare Technology & Innovation Center, also in fall 2014. Also boosting the region’s status as a tech center was the January 2015 announcement by Google that it had chosen Charlotte for its new gigabit Google Fiber Internet network.
Creating a New Economy from the Old
Rock Hill, in York County, S.C., already has gigabit service. That was part of the $30 million infrastructure package Rock Hill put in place to develop Knowledge Park, a 23-acre high-tech park that is rising out of the remains of the textile industry with an emphasis on creativity and innovation. The park is part of a 1-square-mile historic area the city is redeveloping in conjunction with several partners, including the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and Sora Development, the master developer. The first multitenant space – a 200,000-square-foot renovated mill – will begin operation in fall 2015. Fab Lab (a 3-D printing and fabrication lab), a technology incubator and an educational space called The Hive are among the enterprises already operating in the park. Rock Hill, in collaboration with Winthrop University and York Technical College is also developing a variety of programs to create an educated talent pool.
“If you don’t have the people, tech businesses will look elsewhere to where there are people,” says David Lawrence, Knowledge Park development manager for the City of Rock Hill.