Diverse crew to build tech plan

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Diverse crew to build tech plan
Hodges names 39 men and women to help S.C. attract more high-tech companies

By JOE GUY COLLIER Staff Writer

A 39-member team of business, technology, higher-education and government
leaders has been asked to develop an action plan for helping South Carolina
foster more technology industry.
Gov. Jim Hodges finalized Tuesday the steering committee for his Technology
Transition Team. Hodges decided seven weeks ago to form the team, and his
office has since been flooded with people interested in serving on the team.
The team's steering committee, charged with overseeing the development of a
state technology plan, includes 39 people from a variety of backgrounds.
Four state universities, a dozen technology firms, three telecommunications
companies, three investment firms, the state's technical college system and a
real estate corporation are among those represented.
"I feel very good about (the team)," Hodges said. "Everybody's ready to move
ahead."
The committee includes some of the state's most prominent business leaders.
Harry Lightsey III, president of BellSouth's South Carolina operations, is
chairing the committee.
Ed Sellers, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina and also
president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce this year, and Larry
Wilson, former chief executive officer of Blythewood software firm Mynd, are on
the team.
The committee also crosses party lines. Bobby Harrell, the Republican chairman
of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Hugh Leatherman, a Republican state
senator, are ex officio members. Secretary of Commerce Charles Way also is an
ex officio member.
Hodges, a Democrat, said he wanted a diverse group to ensure different
interests and regions of the state were included.
The team will be given the freedom to develop a comprehensive plan, but Hodges
said general areas of emphasis already have emerged.
The state needs to take advantage of its research universities, develop centers
of excellence and increase investment money available to high-tech companies,
he said.
Introducing new legislation this year to address these issues will be
difficult. The legislative session ends in early June.
But Hodges said strides can be taken without legislation to move South Carolina
in the right direction.
The business community, for example, can organize venture capital funds for
putting money in high-tech firms and the state's universities, and colleges can
adjust to meet the employee demands of technology firms.
"I think there are a lot of things that can be done in the short term," Hodges
said. "Life doesn't end when the legislative session adjourns."
If the Technology Transition Team prepares specific initiatives by next
session, the Legislature should be ready for action, Harrell said.
The lottery, reapportionment of legislative districts and a state budget crunch
have dominated this year's session.
By next year, the Legislature should be able to shift attention to a state
technology plan, Harrell said. Republicans and Democrats both view the need to
develop more technology jobs as a top priority, he said.
The state, though, needs a well thought-out plan, Harrell said.
"I don't believe the governor nor the legislators expect this to be something
that's done in a couple of weeks," he said. "This issue is so important that we
need to take the time to get it right."
Lightsey said he doesn't have a timetable for assembling the team for its first
meeting, but he will be sending out background information soon to members.
The team will be looking at past plans produced by the S.C. Technology Alliance
in 1999 and S.C. Technology Advisory Council in 1997.
Once the team is pulled together, Lightsey said he believes he has the right
people and the right timing to make things happen.
"I feel very optimistic and excited about the possibilities," he said.
Tom Persons, president and chief executive officer of the S.C. Technology
Alliance, said he's also optimistic this team will produce results.
The governor's technology team broadens the scope of what groups such as the
S.C. Technology Alliance have been working on for the past few years, Persons
said.
"We've always said when the governor and the Legislature get involved and when
this becomes a nonpartisan, bipartisan issue, things will happen," he said.
Steven Swanson, chief executive officer for Automated Trading Desk and a member
of the technology team, said he's hopeful the team can come up with solutions
for helping high-tech companies succeed.
Automated Trading Desk, which creates computer programs and models for buying
and selling securities, is a 43-person firm in Mt. Pleasant.
A company such as Automated Trading Desk can provide input for fostering more
high-tech start-ups, Swanson said. To see these ideas put into action, though,
the plan needs buy-in from state leaders, he said.
"Clearly, it has to come from up high and filter down," Swanson said.
Cathy Novinger, a former SCANA executive and chairwoman of the State Board for
Technical and Comprehensive Education, said the governor's Technology
Transition Team has the potential to produce concrete actions.
Novinger, a member of the governor's technology team and the S.C. Technology
Alliance's board, said past groups have looked at the issue, but this team
should bring it all together.
"It's not a new topic, but I believe we're going to be able to initiate a new
dialogue," Novinger said. "It will give us a chance to look at all the efforts
that have been successful for other states and communities and decide what
makes sense for South Carolina."
Joe Guy Collier covers technology, telecommunications and utilities. He can be
reached at (803) 771-8307 or by fax at (803) 771-8480 or e-mail,
[email protected].

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