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Friday, August 16, 2013 - 11:00am

Bea Wray Settles In At Creative Coast

New Georgia labor figures were released Thursday.

And they show technology jobs are rising in the state, even as the overall unemployment rate crept from 8.5% in June to 8.8% in July.

In Savannah, there's a new leader in charge of an organization aimed at getting Savannah to be more of a tech town.

The Creative Coast started 16 years ago as an business creation group with a different name and a slightly different mission.

But its new director Bea Wray says its core goals have remained the same.

"Our job is to nurture companies, to nurture creative people and innovation," Wray says. "I have some experience with what that looks like."

Wray started and sold a dizzying array of businesses.

She worked in Boston, San Francisco, New York and Munich.

But she returned with a new baby to her family's Savannah home after the attacks of 9/11.

"We moved to the area and said, 'Why don't we stick around here for a few months until we can go to a real place and find real jobs?'" Wray says. "And we just forgot to leave."

Wray says she found out that she could do the kind of tech-savvy, creative work she wanted to in Savannah.

And now she's working to get others to do the same.

The Creative Coast does that with one-on-one business counseling and special events like TEDx.

That's a conference featuring speakers whose only aim is to spark ideas.

"We want to create and encourage an environment of companies that can grow and increase the wages of the average citizens of Savannah," Wray says.

Most of the jobs in Savannah's top industry, tourism, are low-wage.

Wray says the city can lift itself from a low-wage economy with better schools and infrastructure.

But that's about the extent of what she talks about "the city," "the state" or "the country" doing to spur business.

"On the other hand, I think as individuals, we need to look less as to, 'Who can help me?' than 'What can I do?'" Wray says. "This area has pretty much anything a creative, determined, excited, committed entreprenuer needs to create an incredible business."

Wray's definition of creative business includes more than traditional tech companies like software and design firms.

The Creative Coast aims to keep artists and musicians in Savannah.

Those professions don't show up in the government's technology-related statistics.

Preliminary July 2013 data show 243,100 "professional, scientific and technical" professions in Georgia.

That's 11,500 more than in July 2012.

All categories of "professional, scientific and technical" jobs are up over the previous year, including "computer systems design and related services."