Do We Need Dig South?

Big deal or not? I sat down with founder Stan Gray—something of a creative rabble-rouser himself—to sort out why (and IF) we should care about the latest on Charleston's looong roster of "it" events

I guess it was a few months ago that I started seeing emails… ads... snippets here and there about Dig South. Heard of it? My first thought was the laziest of all and it goes like this: oy, another event? Where does this city get its energy? Heavy drinking? Speed? Those wretched cruise ship fumes? I mean, we leapt out of SEWE and glutted our way through Wine & Food before strutting into Fashion Week, Antiques Week, and, hey, better stretch those hammies—Bridge Run is what, 10 days away?


I just wasn’t ready to digest a new “it” late-winter-through-late-spring Charleston event yet. 


And then I was. Mostly, I needed someone—anyone—to tell me whether I should care about this Dig South thing (please say no, please say no, I’m so tired…). Turns out, I asked the wrong guy: Stanfield Gray, executive producer and founder of the event, scheduled for April 12-14. Because within minutes of sitting down with him at Collective Coffee Co. in Mt. Pleasant, I was just as excited as if I’d invented it. And maybe I did—I mean, I'm on Grit, which is kind of a big deal in the dig world (read: digital), right?


Just kidding. Stan invented it. And I think he's really got something here. Why? Because he's zeroed in (directly and indirectly) on the one arena of Charleston life that's not all that rosy, at least in recent time: jobs. We've got food, we've got old stuff, pretty stuff, artsy stuff, and outdoorsy stuff. But great jobs? Eh. 
Here's how Stan explained Dig South to me:
EM: Dumb questions first: Stan, what are we talking about here?

SG: Dig South is about the digital economy—it's the information-based or knowledge economy. The Internet. Dig South is about how we do business on the web, how we communicate on the web—that’s everything from software and hardware to marketing our companies through social media... entertainment-type content to supply chain management to online commerce like Etsy.


EM: Is it weird that even as the editor of a solely digital platform, I’m intimidated by this? I think of a digital conference as being for much smarter people than me, who sit at a table with metal parts and put them together to make a computer.
SG: That’s like saying you shouldn’t care about driving because you don’t know how to build a car.


EM: Gotcha. 
SG: If you’re spending any amount of time on this blog—whether you’re reading it or writing for it or even building it—it means online information has value to you, and you use it. You’re into self-publishing, social media… this knowledge-based economy is your economy.


EM: Well, that brings us to my big question. Why should we care? 
SG: Fair question. One word: Jobs. Here in Charleston, we have a lot of tourist-based jobs, which are fantastic. But those jobs pay less than knowledge-economy jobs. Anyone interested in where the jobs are going to be should pay attention. The new jobs are about innovation, about what’s next, whether that relates to urban planning, the arts, media… The more we engage in this economy using digital platforms, the more engaged we can be with the global economy.


EM: How did this come about?
SG: I’ve been thinking for years about this, but I was most recently inspired by the Ad Age Digital Conference I attended in New York [an annual conference that brings together top strategists in social media, digital commerce, and online media]. I left thinking… wait, we have people in Charleston who are as forward thinking and as bright as the people there. We may not have as much access to capital or have as large a talent pool or infrastructure as places like San Francisco or New York, but we have other important things: we have a high quality of life, and our job opportunities are only expanding and getting better. True, Charleston does a great job of looking backwards, commemorating the past. But that’s changing. Dig South is about the future. If Facebook can start out of a dorm room, there’s no reason the next billion dollar IPO can’t launch out of Charleston.


EM: Who’s going?
SG: This year, we’re focused on entrepreneurs and rabble-rousers all the way up to CEOs, and they’ll be from Charleston, Atlanta, New York... The idea is to share ideas and allow the big ideas to come out of that. We’ll expose businesses in Charleston to a greater market and give presenters a forum to tell their stories.


Local names you might know are Nate DaPore, CEO of People Matter; Jana Eggers, VP of Blackbaud; Shan Fowler, director of marketplaces at Benefit Focus; Grier Allen, president of Boomtown; Kim Alexander, digital media editor for Garden & Gun; Noah Everett, founder of Twitpic; and Steve Parker of Levelwing. These folks will be sitting on panels throughout the weekend and speaking in various sessions and workshops.


EM: What do I do there? Wander? Listen? Drink?
SG: Along with the various sessions and panels, there’s an expo, which is like a trade show for the technology and creative industry. We’re also incorporating music, with DangerMuffin and Lee Fields, so check out the schedule. In planning this, we couldn’t help but recognize that science and the arts, particularly music, historically tend to intersect. Digital pioneer Steve Jobs brought us the iPod, and other digital platforms like iTunes have ended up generating the most income for artists. So it makes sense keep these connected at a conference like this.


EM: Shameless plea: after the event, how about blogging on Grit? Sharing practical news, tips, articles on this explosive economy? Just to keep us current until the next conference...
SG: Love to. You got it...
Find everything you need about tickets, schedules, speakers, music, and more right here: