Tech-tourism: Grand Strand technology efforts flourishing

Adapted from Flickr user Carlos Almendarez

Over the last 50 years or so, Myrtle Beach has become something of a mini-everything.

It’s a miniature Boca Raton, an ideal setting for retirees (and the dollars they bring to the medical community). It’s also a bit like Atlantic City, bustling with entertainment options for the transient and monetarily incontinent youth. Locals are left somewhere in between, in a resort town that is seemingly geared towards everything and everyone but, well, them. Long it has been the complaint that job opportunities are scant, industry is virtually nonexistent, and seasonal service-oriented jobs are one of the only options for a full-time resident who isn’t a teacher or in the medical field.

Few would argue whether Myrtle Beach is a tourist destination. Even fewer would argue that it is a burgeoning site of technological progress and development. But given some of the very things that make this seem impossible, it could soon be the case. Here’s why.

When I go out in Myrtle Beach, I am often surprised by the attire of people who are purportedly out on dates, holding business luncheons or attending charity dos. Put nicely, the uniform here is casual. Put bluntly, it’s a little slack. Cut off shorts, Fit Flops and an “I just got out of bed at noon” hairdo aren’t classically professional. Luckily, this is increasingly the look sported by many of the most prominent members of the world-changing, forward-thinking IT community.

You know who I’m talking about: guys who care more about RPGs than they do about girlfriends, who sport a fine dusting of Dorito-crumbles around their neckline as they pound away furiously at their keyboards, changing the very course of history, time and space.

But of course that’s a stereotype, and a very narrow-minded one at that. The way we communicate with each other has evolved. It evolves every single day--on and off the grid, personally and professionally. People of all shapes and sizes are increasingly reliant on computers and the internet. Pads and tablets, once so obviously things you could buy at a pharmacy, are now common terms for virtually necessary leisure AND business equipment.

As such, the techno-dork image is a thing of the past, as surely as suits and ties have fallen somewhat by the wayside. The truth is somewhere in between, much like Myrtle Beach itself lies a little in between.

Visitors and transplants from the North can be heard complaining about the slower pace of life here south of the Mason Dixon. We have a less developed transportation infrastructure; it takes longer to get where you’re going on our Beltway-free roads. But according to an assessment commissioned by Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development, our telecommunications infrastructure rivals Atlanta and New York. To quote Doc from 1985’s Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Virtual offices, online file sharing, and paperless records-keeping are things that make the viability of sustained technological growth in the Myrtle Beach area a very real possibility. Freelancers and the self-employed can do their work from just about anywhere. Cisco networking tools (to name just one option) make meetings possible between client and contractor from across state lines and time zones. Why in the world wouldn’t a professional want to live right next to the beach and still be a vital, thriving member of her work community?

Why, indeed, couldn’t Myrtle Beach have it all?

Being a resort town, Myrtle Beach provides a desirable hub for business people to congregate, perhaps one of the reasons why so many “techno-conferences” have sprung up over the last several years. March’s Grand Strand Tech Expo is only one such entity, showcasing the rarely-highlighted entrepreneurialism and inventiveness of local technicians. Colleges, medical professionals, wireless and IT gurus galore come together to network and discuss the latest offerings.

Also in March are the New South Digital Marketing Conference, featuring speakers from companies like Yahoo and Yelp, and the Technology Literacy Conference, which will discuss methods of integrating technology into the learning environment. With an eye on education, the Grand Strand is also host to two higher-learning institutions: Coastal Carolina University, a four-year college that adds courses of study at an almost constant rate and shares exchange programs with universities all over Europe; and Horry-Georgetown Technical College, a 2-year trade school with a great track record of matching graduates to jobs.

On April 14, 2012, HGTC hosts CreateSouth in its fifth year. The conference is geared towards discussing the close interplay between creativity and technology, allowing attendees to discuss the benefits of using cutting edge products to take their output to a new level.

On a primary education level, both Horry and Georgetown counties hold their own technology fairs for kids in kindergarten on up through high school, where students can exhibit their own know-how and work on solving real-world problems from a technological viewpoint. In just three years, the fair has grown from 200 students to close to 600, posing the issue of brain drain. Why aren't these students sticking around the Grand Strand after graduation?

Finally, Techno Security & Mobile Forensics Conferences draw international participants and address the very real problem of internet fraud and how to establish ethics in the realm of IT security.

Essentially, the key to keeping Myrtle Beach profitable for residents lies in diminishing the dependency on the very term “seasonal.” These conferences are proof that it can be done. Re-infusing the economy with dollars in between the lucrative spurts in summer, fall and spring would take Myrtle Beach a long way towards success and stability for a broader base of locals, and provide a reason for young college graduates to stay rather than flee in search of sustenance. The idea of creating a “freelance network,” as referred to by local entrepreneur Paul Reynolds in a recent issue of DotDotDot Mag, allows for the influx of business traffic from national clients in an array of fields, like advertising, software development, technical support and more. Cultivating a culture by utilizing shared office space allows freelancers to rely upon and support each other in their efforts. Working remotely or independently doesn't have to be a lonely proposition. Creative and technical types generally see working collaboratively as inspiring and empowering. The busier freelancers like that become, the more jobs they can offer. This is how small businesses are created, the very spark of the American Dream. 

If residents learn to love Myrtle Beach as much as its visitors do, then this town absolutely CAN have it all--and it’s only a matter of time.

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