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South Carolina looks to align cyber ecosystem, economic growth

South Carolina announced last week that it would undertake an inventory of its "cyber assets" as the first step to optimize its cybersecurity and privacy policy and economic development programs.

The asset inventory – a catalog of the supply and demand of cybersecurity talent, skill shortages, and needs for growth – can be used to configure education programs across the state to better suit the needs of economic stability and growth.

"We want to find the gaps to know, how do you integrate the statewide cyber ecosystem? How do you strengthen the technical capability and capacity? And then how do we compete in cyber assets that become an economic driver for our state?" said Bill Kirkland, executive director of University of South Carolina's Office of Innovation, Partnerships, and Economic Engagement, who is heading up efforts to develop a strategy.

"The inventory will show us what skills are needed. What's missing. Watch the true workforce development opportunity, going forward. And then of course we would say that we modify our curriculum or build certificate programs."

South Carolina becomes the latest region to invest in cybersecurity capacity as foundational to grow its economy. The city of Sacramento, California, for example, used its COVID-19 funding to turn laid-off workers into cyber experts. More recently, the greater region of Pensacola launched an advertising and incentive campaign designed to lure top cyber talent away from Silicon Valley and other major tech hubs to the Florida Panhandle.

The South Carolina initiative, however, is a coordinated effort across state government, multiple state universities, local industry, and critical infrastructure.

South Carolina is anticipating a growth in defense and government contracting after the recent move of the Army's Cyber Command to nearby Augusta, Georgia. The University of South Carolina, in Columbia, is the closest large university to that Fort Gordon installation and has been a stop on Army infosec outreach exercises in the past.

Kirkland believes developing a cybersecurity hub might draw skilled workers from other states, particularly those coming off of Fort Gordon, to further sustain growth.

But the demand for information security workforce goes further than security companies.

"If the Department of Commerce is recruiting a company, oftentimes now, they do ask that question – not just how do you protect but also is there an educated workforce," he said.

The goal is not to replicate existing infrastructure. The cybersecurity plan will not overtake existing response plans handled by the police or state.

Kirkland anticipates a to submit a plan to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster by the end of the year.

Joe Uchill

Joe is a senior reporter at SC Weekly, focused on policy issues. He previously covered cybersecurity for Axios, The Hill and the Christian Science Monitor’s short-lived Passcode website.

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