042717 Economy: Tech Barn helps grow county technology park
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A café occupies the entrance to the renovated Tech Barn.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Economy: Tech Barn helps grow county technology park

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Expansion of a Pawleys Island technology firm into a renovated plant nursery is the first step toward creation of a technology park. Mercom Corp. is on track to complete its new headquarters at the site on Petigru Drive in 2020, said Stella Mercado, the president and CEO.

Last week, 20 employees moved from the current company office on Petigru across the street to its Tech Barn. The 5,000-square-foot building was formerly used by Waccamaw Farms as a retail nursery and by Mission Pawleys, an Anglican group that had planned to build a church on the site. The move comes a year after 7 acres owned by Mercom and 14 acres more owned by the Georgetown County Economic Development Alliance were designated the county tech park.

“We are actively working on generating occupants for that park,” said Brian Tucker, the county’s economic development director. “We’re starting to get some traction.”

Mercom’s headquarters will anchor the park. The company has finished an assessment of its space requirements and is now working with the county on a master plan that will determine the appearance of the park. “We want a consistent look and feel,” Mercado said.

The expansion to the Tech Barn is the first tangible step in what Mercom has said will be a $6 million investment that will create 150 jobs over five years. “The barn is not emblematic of Mercom,” Mercado said. But renovating the existing building “is innovative, which Mercom is.”

Mercado occupies a corner office at the end of one wing. “It’s the only office,” she noted. The two wings, off a central entrance way that includes a café, have rows of open work spaces set on the original concrete floor. “Huddle spaces” with chairs and sofas set around rugs are tucked into the corners. “We created the feeling of trust, transparency and openness, empowering company innovation, collaboration and team building,” Mercado said.

Mercom has already added staff. In addition to the 20 employees who work in the Tech Barn, there are more than 30 others who work off-site, but will drop by. At the main office, there are another 20 to 30 people. With less than 10,000 square feet, the main office got crowded when everyone was there at the same time, employees said.

“This has created a significant amount of excitement and energy internally,” said Courtney Newman, the company’s human resources director.

Mercom continues to hire. It has found a partner in Coastal Carolina University. “The university has a program major that fits Mercom perfectly,” Mercado said.

Students majoring in intelligence and national security studies can take a minor in cybersecurity. Computer science majors can minor in policy studies. “Along with tech people doing the work, we also need policy, problem solving people that can tie it together,” Mercado said.

The Tech Barn and its “Google feel” are part of what she hopes will attract new recruits to the growing firm. But she said that growth won’t be confined to tech. “A tech company needs all the pieces of any other company,” Mercado said. “We need to have the baby boomer and the millennial.”

Mercado is also hearing from potential users of other property within the tech park and from people interested in developing the project. “The barn’s really cool,” she said. “What does the rest of it look like?”

The opening of the renovated building is an important step, Tucker said. The park “is still more of a concept. Once we see some significant infrastructure, it will be easier to sell,” he said.

Even with the renovation, the Tech Barn hasn’t shed all of its horticultural roots. The men’s bathroom is labeled “stamen,” the women’s “pistil.”

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