Battling the Brain Drain: Keeping talent in the Midlands

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - When Bianca Crawford finished up her college days, the University of South Carolina graduate was determined to stay put in the Midlands.

While other people her age left town, the Anderson native built a network.

"I love Columbia. I saw it as an opportunity," said Crawford. "I thought it would be a great lifestyle here."

What some young professionals may consider a gamble, paid off for Crawford. She has gone on to build a successful public relations firm, Red Carpet Communications, through tireless networking.

For years, local leaders, businesses and colleges have worried about a rush of young professionals bolting the streets of Columbia for other Southeastern cities and beyond, seeking what they think are greener pastures.

Some students nearing graduation, and members of the young workforce feel maxed out in the Midlands and start looking elsewhere.

USC career center director Tom Halasz sees it with students every day.

"They recognize that in some cases there's limited opportunities depending on the industry they want to go in," said Halasz. "But, that's changing. It's changing in South Carolina fundamentally."

Halasz points to opportunities in the healthcare industry, technology fields, and insurance technology fields. South Carolina is a hub in the insurance sector with corporations like Blue Cross/Blue Shield and other smaller firms scattered throughout the state.

Pitching those positives often falls to Halasz and his staff, and groups like Columbia's IT-ology. The local non-profit focuses on the tech sector, looking to keep homegrown talent at home by reaching out to schools, businesses, and the general public to sell the region.

"As we all work together we're able to expose, if you will, some of that secret that's really taking place here," said Diedre Murphy, program manager at IT-ology.

IT-ology officials say people outside the state are starting to take notice, pointing to the wide array of business, technology and trade conferences setting up in Columbia in recent years. Through their outreach efforts, IT-ology, local commerce and business leader want to make sure professionals in all fields are working together to build a viable economic engine through professional workshops, mentorship programs and local professional development seminars.

"That makes that perfect employee in this marketplace," said Murphy. "That then is attractive to businesses looking to expand. It's more attractive to businesses perhaps looking to relocate here."

Those looking to expand their professional reach in the Columbia area have a chance to do that over the next few days. A professional development weekend called "The Talented Tenth" is expected to draw people from around the Southeast. It offers young professionals, and people of all ages, the chance to network with others in the region from various professional fields.

Bianca Crawford learned the value of that long ago and hopes others will follow her lead.

"You have to be an active young professional," said Crawford. "You have to want to go out there and look for things. If you're just going to go to work 9-5 and go home then you're probably not going to experience everything Columbia has to offer."