Construction workers in downtown Rock Hill dig deep ditches and fill them with pipes for water, electricity, high-speed Internet and other services vital to the success of Knowledge Park, a high-tech business park that’s expected to transform the former textile site between downtown and Winthrop University.
Another group of workers is equally concerned about another “pipeline” that’s key to Knowledge Park’s success. The group meets regularly to discuss issues such as capacity and continued flow. But the concern isn’t concrete pipes. The focus is a steady stream of workers with high-tech skills.
While the constructions workers’ job will be finished when the holes are filled and roads paved, the second group’s work may never been done.
“In IT jobs, you are never done training,” says Edie Dille, associate dean for business and information technology at York Technical College. “ You are continually learning. Technology changes and you have to stay current.”
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Dille is one of the educators working with city officials and business leaders to develop both a strategy and programs to prepare workers for Knowledge Park jobs.
The task is essential. At its core, Knowledge Park is about bringing jobs to Rock Hill.
“We have a real estate plan” for Knowledge Park, says Stephen Turner, director of economic development for Rock Hill. “We need a plan for those who will work there.”
“Talent is the new currency,” says David Lawrence, the city’s Knowledge Park development manager. To compete, Rock Hill will need a high-tech workforce.
A recent economic study suggests Rock Hill’s current IT pipeline is inadequate to meet Knowledge Park’s needs. The city-commissioned study suggests Rock Hill must recruit regionally for Knowledge Park jobs, bringing in workers from Charlotte.
Dille says the study did not capture the number of technology workers that live in Rock Hill but work in Charlotte. Those workers would be prime candidates for Knowledge Park jobs, she said.
But Dille and others also know that developing talent for Knowledge Park is a long-term effort, which includes reaching down into the public schools – as deep as kindergarten – to prepare a steady stream of technology workers.
To meet the needs of potential Knowledge Park employees, the city, the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., and its education and business partners, have two efforts – one to meet the immediate employment needs and one to develop a sustainable pipeline of talent.
The immediate effort is under the banner of the Knowledge Park Innovation Center. The center is funded by a one-year, $250,000 Innovation Challenge Grant from the state commerce department. When city officials read the grant’s requirements, “they were talking about us,” Lawrence said.
The Knowledge Park Innovation Center will be housed in the former Citizens bank building in downtown Rock Hill. The center’s job will be to promote a variety of technology job programs and organizations.
Existing organizations that will be marketed by the center are The Hive and the Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park.
The Hive gives Winthrop and York Tech students experience in developing websites for nonprofit organizations.
The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and Clemson University are partners in the incubator. Companies selected for the incubator have access to experts at Clemson, who will assist with product development, market research and finances. The incubator’s goal is to launch three start-up companies that would employ up to 10 people.
New initiatives under the center’s banner are:
• The Fab Lab at York College. The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. will spend $67,188 of the state grant for various machines that will be combined with existing ones at York Tech. The Fab Lab will allow Winthrop and York Tech students to make prototypes using two- and three-dimensional machines. The lab could be opened to public for a fee.
• K-12 seminars and workshops to interest students in technology-related careers.
• The Winthrop ICE Initiative. ICE stands for innovate, create and engage. The initiative would be a series of programs, bringing people together to “make the familiar and unfamiliar and solve complex problems in different ways.”
• The Knowledge Park Technology Council, a monthly meeting where technology workers can share ideas.
• An entrepreneurial competition for Winthrop and York Tech students. The goal is to have at least 12 entrepreneurs compete for money to help launch their ideas.
• Space at the former Citizens bank building at the corner of East Main and Caldwell streets that could be shared among several companies, called co-work. The goal is to have at least five independent contractors using the co-work space.
Additional goals for the center are serving more than 500 people in its first year, and developing a website that generates 500 unique visitors per week.
The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. recently asked advertising and marketing firms to submit their qualifications to market the Innovation Center.
Companies that have submitted qualifications to the city are:
• RevenFlo, a Rock Hill Internet marketing and communications firm, which has been a partner in The Hive.
• Glyph Interface Advertising of Chapel Hill, which has done work for WakeMed Hospital, the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, and economic development for Chapel Hill, N.C.
• The Palladian Group of Spartanburg, which has done work for BMW and Residuum Energy of Utah.
• The Clare Morris Agency of Columbia, which has done economic development work for Clarendon and Orangeburg counties, and the S.C. Economic Developers Association.
The winning firm will develop a brand, logo, signage, website, and various social media applications for the center. About $50,000 of the grant is set aside for marketing and related projects.
The city and Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. hope to select a marketing firm by the end of the month.