Greenville, NC: A New Kind of Tech Hub
Greenville, NC, combines small city charm with big opportunities for digital creators and tech companies.
Nestled in the lush eastern North Carolina region, Greenville is already known as a place to find small-town charm within the resources of a city. Located between Raleigh and the coast, it’s home to East Carolina University and several well-established industries such as manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. The vibe is friendly, the housing is affordable and the local outdoor adventures beckon to be explored. It’s decidedly unlike traditional tech hubs, and yet, Greenville is becoming just that.
Homegrown tech companies are driving job growth through significant recruiting efforts and new, creative partnerships with local colleges. Simultaneously, local organizations are doubling down on this new sector with innovative developments supporting technology and innovation.
YouTube’s Mr. Beast, founded by Greenville native Jimmy Donaldson, is number one on the Forbes list of 2022 Top Creators. His channel, known for expensive stunts and extreme philanthropy, is the largest platform on YouTube, with his main channel (one of five) garnering 139 million subscribers and counting. Content creation is a multi-billion-dollar industry. As companies like Mr. Beast expand, more skilled employees are needed to support content creation.
That was the inspiration behind the new partnership between Mr. Beast and East Carolina University (ECU). Together they’re developing an online training and credentialing program focused on entry-level industry skills.
For a company like Mr. Beast, which employs approximately 125 people and continues to grow, it can be challenging to find employees who are appropriately trained in such a new field. Dr. Sharon Paynter, ECU’s acting chief research and engagement officer, worked with Mr. Beast to develop this program based on the creator industry’s need for a more qualified workforce. She believes that offering the program entirely online enables students and employees global access to this innovative training. Many of these students will also realize the resources located locally in Greenville.
“East Carolina University has long been a leader in online education, and the Greenville area offers the lifestyle amenities — like recreation and affordable cost of living — many professionals seek,” Paynter explained. “While this program will be primarily an online educational option that supplies workforce for creator companies anywhere in the world, the hope is it will also draw digital media content creators to Greenville, increasing the number of these types of companies located in this region.”
Other tech companies established by Greenville natives are also seeing significant growth. For example, Grover Gaming, which was established in Greenville in 2003 by CEO Garrett Blackwelder, is a software development and design company. As they expect to bring in hundreds of new jobs in the next five years, they’re putting significant effort into drawing the best talent to Greenville.
Like Mr. Beast, Grover Gaming is also investing in expanding educational opportunities to support their field’s long-term growth. They’ve partnered with the local Pitt Community College to create the “Simulation and Game Development AAS Degree” and two certificate programs: SGD-Art Certificate and SGD-Programming Certificate. The curriculum’s broad background in simulation and game development allows students to apply their creative skills in a practical way. This hands-on program teaches students to build 3D and 2D games — something Grover Gaming needs to fuel its growth.
Although local tech companies are driving these partnerships, there is extensive support for this new economic opportunity throughout the community. For example, the Greenville Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Alliance is a public-private partnership created to support economic vitality through community collaborations, promotions and development. Their CEO, Josh Lewis, values their traditional manufacturing industries while strategically developing the tech and innovation sector to drive growth.
“The majority of the job growth in the next 10 years is going to be within white-collar professions and professional services. So, understanding that we have a foundation here that we can build on with content creation and gaming development. We will shift some of our focus and resources towards those industries in a way that we haven’t done previously,” said Lewis.
An example of this collaborative support is evident in the current development of Intersect East, an urban “innovation campus” of mixed-use space combining tech, light manufacturing and research opportunities with lifestyle amenities such as housing and dining. Bridging the ECU campus with local industries is another way Greenville utilizes its current resources to develop this new sector.
“We’re trying to create programming and an infrastructural support system that highlights these companies that were organically created here by entrepreneurs within the environment that exists today and make the environment better,” Josh Lewis explained. “We have a continuous pipeline of talent that comes through this area that we can do a better job of retaining if we have the jobs of the future that they have an interest in.”
Its position outside of the traditional tech hubs may actually be fueling Greenville’s newfound attraction. Grover Gaming is finding that employees who have relocated to Greenville are drawn to the fun city activities and extensive outdoor recreation opportunities without the crush of big city crowds. The affordable cost of living is also particularly attractive.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising then that according to RentCafe, Greenville ranked first in their analysis of the “Best Cities for Gen Z Renters.” As young people turned away from big cities during Covid, they set their sights on communities like Greenville. In fact, Greenville saw an 84% spike in apartment applications by Gen Z renters in 2020.
ECU’s Dr. Payntor explained how Greenville has embraced these new opportunities. “Our community has been excited about the potential for this program, and we have strong support from local stakeholders.”
With new and unique training opportunities for students, ready-made industry infrastructure and organizational support, it’s easy to see why Greenville is garnering attention as a hub for digital creators and tech. Factoring in its tight-knit community and affordability, the city appears poised for growth.