Beaufort hopes to retain youth, add high-tech jobs in new initiative

The Beaufort Digital Corridor will go into the former bank branch at 500 Carteret Street.

The City of Beaufort is losing its youth, as young people leave town to find jobs. To solve the problem, the city council is trying to help create more high-tech jobs to employ a younger workforce. On Tuesday night, the council voted for a partnership with a Charleston company to form the ‘Beaufort Digital Corridor’.

When applying for jobs in Beaufort, those like Dylan Feeser know it can be difficult to find work. Feeser, 29, works at his family’s store, Lowcountry Bicycles.

“Really, the only thing as a local here is, you’ve either got construction, you’ve got food and beverage, or you’ve got a family business…and outside of that, there are no good paying jobs. It’s kind of like the good ‘ole boy system here,” Feeser says.

Feeser was born and raised in Beaufort. He left home to spend four years working in Charlotte and then returned.

“I’ve had a friend who’s recently moved to Pennsylvania, couldn’t find a tech job around here, went to school for coding. He’s a fifth generation Beaufortonian, so that’s rough,” Feeser says.

To try to change that, Beaufort leaders want to attract different types of jobs that appeal to young people.

“If you look at demographics, we are losing at an accelerated pace, our young people,” Mayor Billy Keyserling says. “We want to make sure that we have a working middle class living in Beaufort that can benefit and grow and create primary jobs.”

Keyserling says Beaufort lost about 25% of 18-40 year olds, according to the last census over the last 10 years. One out of four people educated in Beaufort, who have to leave to find work.

“We’re primarily a tourism-based economy,” Councilman Stephen Murray says, “and there’s nothing wrong with that except that tourism jobs are typically lower waged jobs, and when you compare that to our higher cost of living and the cost of living that’s continuing to increase, it’s going to make it more and more of a challenge for young professionals who want to live in the area.”

The new digital corridor means jobs in things like coding, and app and software development. Offices will be housed in a former bank building at 500 Carteret Street.

“The benefit for the local community is that brings new dollars in,” Murray says.

The building will be refurbished; council hopes to have it completed and to begin filling the building with professionals by the end of the year.

Keyserling estimates the cost of refurbishing the building to be between $200-350,000, which will come from the city’s operating fund. The rest of the corridor operation will be privately funded.

“It’s 2016. Tech’s coming around. It’s time to start taking advantage of that and getting it here in town,” Feeser says.

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