January 15, 2020

Beaufort launches South Coast Cyber Center

City of Beaufort

Under a plan presented to City Council at its Work Session on Jan. 14, the City of Beaufort could become a center of cybersecurity expertise, with the potential to offer high-paying jobs to exiting military as well as career opportunities to hometown graduates.

The South Coast Cyber Center, which is in the process of becoming a 501 (c) (3), represents stakeholders from the City, the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), Technical College of the Low Country (TCL), the Beaufort Digital Corridor, Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation, and retired military. Under this ambitious plan, TCL and USCB would offer certificates and degrees in cybersecurity and cyber defense, while the Beaufort Digital Corridor would offer bootcamps and mentoring to startups.

The group's goal is that within three years, both schools would have achieved a Center of Academic Excellence designation from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, according to Councilman Stephen Murray, who is vice chairman of the South Coast Cyber Center's advisory board. TCL would offer an associate degree in cybersecurity and USCB a bachelor degree.

City Council will be asked to approve a resolution at its Jan. 28 meeting supporting the South Coast Cyber Center.

Cybersecurity jobs are in great demand, according to research done by the group, and pay $60,000-$70,000 at the entry level. Last year, there was a shortage of 300,000 jobs in the United States. That demand, coupled with the advantages many exiting military would bring to the table – an adversarial mindset, security clearances – make Beaufort the perfect place to cultivate a center for cybersecurity expertise, Murray said.

And it aligns with the City's strategic goals – to offer job opportunities to exiting military that would keep them in Beaufort, to diversify the economy, and to encourage high-paying jobs that would make Beaufort an even more desirable place to live.

Members of the advisory board have met with state and federal delegations to lay out the reasons why it makes sense for Beaufort to do this, and to ask for $5.3 million in seed funding – what UCSB, TCL and the Beaufort Digital Corridor have estimated they would need to add the appropriate faculty, curriculum, technology, and facilities, to quickly ramp up.

Currently, USCB offers degrees in computational science, Murray said, and TCL offers a certificate in cybersecurity. "We felt that we could build on this," he said.

Murray said that in 2019, approximately 2,100 military exited Parris Island, the Naval Hospital and the Marine Corps Air Station. "Many of them are invested here, have bought houses here, their kids are in school, their spouses are working in the community," Murray said. Still, only a fraction stay – often because Beaufort does not offer them the career opportunities they seek.

"We will actively work to recruit cybersecurity firms," Murray said. "We'd start to establish an ecosystem around cybersecurity and cyber defense in Beaufort." That could also lead to more students from the Beaufort area deciding that good careers awaited them if they were to study cybersecurity at TCL and USCB.

Col. Warren Parker, USMC, Retired, is chairman of the advisory board.

The City of Beaufort's Higher Education Task Force, which began in 2019 to bring USCB, TCL and the county school district to the table to examine areas where all schools could collaborate on programs that would lead to good paying jobs, expressed its support of the South Coast Cyber Center at a recent meeting.