Bluffton Leadership Works for Technology Park

Artist's rendering of the CareCore building at the planned technology park.
Artist's rendering of the CareCore building at the planned technology park.

Bluffton High School is just one example of the town's modern development. "This is the most technologically advanced high school to open in the United States in 2004," Mayor Hank Johnston told us. "Completely wireless classrooms, computer systems tied in, video broadcasting."

It also serves as a temporary facility for the Technical College of the Lowcountry as its Bluffton campus is being built.

It's an educational alliance the mayor says will help attract high-tech business. "You're in a much better competitive salary situation if you have the resources where you can train the people that you need rather than trying to attract all of the experienced talent."

Educators say they're working with companies who might be interested in the area. "We meet with the companies and we start looking at our curriculum and start seeing how we can adjust that to meet their needs," said Nancy Weber of the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

Another piece of the puzzle is Hargray's work to saturate the town with high-capacity fiber-optic cable, very attractive for information technology companies.

"Hargray Communications, our communications company in this area, laid fiber in the ground we dry trenched," said Mayor Johnston. "I am told by them we have more fiber in the ground than any municipality in the State of South Carolina."

Community leaders tell us that bringing together cutting-edge education, millions of dollars in government and private funding, and hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable in the ground will turn a wooded site in the northern part of town into the clean and lucrative industry of the future: the May River Technology Park.

While planning what to do with its thousands of acres of annexed land, Bluffton considered trying to attract manufacturers.

"With the vast amount of wetlands that we have in Beaufort County, it winds up being not an environmental fit," Mayor Johnston said. "In our assessment, leveraging the fiber that's in the ground and the planned extension of the fiber, we hit on knowledge-based industries as being the best opportunity for us."

In fact, CareCore National, a high-tech healthcare company, has already committed $2.5 million to help develop Bluffton's first technology park.

Planners are still looking for some federal funding for non-fiber infrastructure, like roads, for the park. But CareCore tells us that if all goes as planned, its initial payroll could go as high as $7 million in about a year's time.

Reported by: Charles Gray, cgray@wtoc.com