Arc 3 Communications recently attended the first annual Dig South Interactive Festival in Charleston, SC. The festival was launched to celebrate the Southeastern knowledge economy and show that Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley have nothing on the creativity, innovation and culture of the South. Charleston, with its “Silicon Harbor” community of startups was the perfect place to host this rival festival to Austin’s SXSW.
The Southeastern knowledge economy is clearly an underdog in today’s tech economic development space race, but events like Dig South help to highlight the potential that places like Charleston have in developing technology and creative industry startups. It remains a little known fact, that a lot of startups are created in the Southeast but eventually leave for Silicon Valley for additional funding. This fact is widely acknowledged by Southeastern economic development leaders, and efforts like Dig South reflect the need to stop this flow of startups to outside of the region.
The assets of the Southeastern knowledge economy were on full display at Dig South. On the first day participants were able to go on a “Studio Strut” of some eleven creative studios in Charleston. Many of these studios lined the city’s fabled King Street, and were full of creative people in graphic design, digital and marketing who loved their companies’ large co-working studios. These creatives were reflective of the South’s long tradition of artistry exemplified by writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy and William Faulkner. The culture of the South is unique in places like Charleston, and is a draw for young creatives who essentially can choose to live wherever they like in today’s digital economy.
Like SXSW, Dig South had a strong musical component. Attendees could “Dig In” with some quality bands in country, indie rock and rhythm and blues. Birthplace of both R&B and the Grand Ole Opry, the Southeast’s musical prominence was reflective in the smorgasbord of bands from Danger Muffin to Roscoe Bandana to Lee Fields and the Expressions. For creatives whose work often thrives with the sounds of music, the fullness of the Southeast’s musical culture is a compelling case for living, working and playing here.
The biggest draw for Dig South was of course the interactive conference. Charleston was clearly a draw for some quality presenters, moderators and panelists. Attendees were treated to a wide range of speakers and panelists including from Facebook, Twitter, CNN.com, HNLtv.com and Contently. The keynote speaker Robert Tercek, Chairman of the Creative Visions Foundation provided an insightful talk about innovation and the future of media.
However, a true testament to the knowledge economy of the South was the quality presenters who were local, such as Steve Parker, founder of Levelwing, the staff of Garden and Gun Magazine, and executives from Blackbaud, PeopleMatter and Benefitfocus. The local presenters exemplified why the Southeast has long been a hub for technology and innovation. The South is home to a strong aerospace and space industry consisting of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and NASA; a strong automotive industry with companies like Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Kia, and Volkswagen; and a cable media industry with powerhouses such as CNN, Turner Broadcasting and The Weather Channel. The South’s history of innovation began with strong public land grant technologically based universities and world renown research facilities such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Research Triangle Park, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For engineers and technologists looking for a place steeped in the modern history of technology and innovation, the South is a natural draw.
The successful Dig South Festival showed that South’s rich culture of creativity, technology and innovation is the springboard for a knowledge economy that will continue to produce and grow many new startups. For those in the creative, tech, media and digital industries, block out next year’s trade show calendar and save the date for Dig South 2014 on April 9th to 13th in Charleston. You will be glad that you did.