A trip in 2011 to the Ad Age Digital Conference, a two-day summit in New York City that annually attracts some of the most powerful people in technology and media, got Stan Gray thinking about the creative talent and emerging tech sectors in his hometown of Charleston and across the Southeast.
Upon returning home, he kicked around the idea of staging an interactive festival -- think a parred-down version of the popular South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas -- in the Holy City.
"I knew that we had just as many bright, talented artists, hardware designers and software engineers in Charleston as they had in New York City but with less access to capital and a relatively smaller talent pool."
A June 2012 article in "Fast Company" magazine, nicknaming Charleston "Silicone Harbor" and naming the city as being among the 10 fastest-growing American cities for software and Internet technology, sealed the deal for Gray.
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The Dig South Interactive Festival was born.
"What we're talking about are jobs of the future, high-tech jobs, and they're right here in our backyard and across the region," Gray said. "This sector of our economy is roaring right now, and it's a really exciting space to be in. That's what we wanted Dig South to be about."
Scheduled for next weekend in Charleston, the three-day festival will feature more than 30 panels on topics, including social media, mobile app development and digital publishing, as well as keynote addresses from the managing editor of CNN.com and leaders from tech powerhouses such as Facebook and Twitter.
Dig South also includes a technology expo at the College of Charleston's TD Arena and live music from some of the city's up-and-coming acts at Charleston Music Hall.
Kelley Jarrett, marketing manager at Guide Creative in Charleston, will host "How Dr. Seuss Can Help You Rock Digital Storytelling" and said she has been "pleasantly surprised" by the buzz surrounding the fledgling festival.
"They really seem to have come out of the gates sprinting," Jarrett said. "I'll be curious to see if the event has reach beyond Charleston, like if people in Atlanta are excited about the festival. I think Dig South can only do amazing things for the growth of the technology sector in Charleston and across the Southeast."
Gray declined to say how much it will cost to stage the festival, but organizers used the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise more than $18,000 last year.
Those who contributed will be named in event brochures and on its website as "festival founders," he said.
"We did the Kickstarter because we wanted the community to feel involved and a part of the festival," Gray said.
Buff Ross, founder of Alloneword Design, a Charleston-based Web design company, said the money raised demonstrates the local community's belief in the festival but added that many in the Lowcountry still have much to learn about the area's emerging tech scene.
"Charleston is at a crossroads," said Ross, who is participating in one panel and moderating another. "We've had a pretty traditional and maybe even conservative economy for a while, and that's really changing now. There are some who may not even be aware that this part of our economy is really percolating, and I won't be surprised if Dig South opens some eyes around town."
PRESENTATIONS NOT TO MISS
We asked Stan Gray, executive producer of Dig South, to give us three panels or keynote presentations not to be missed during the three-day festival. Here's what he had to say:
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.