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PeopleMatter CEO on Upper King relocation: ‘We are pleased’

Posted on June 16, 2014 by in Jobs & Economy

People Matter on Upper King Street, 2014

By Tom Grubisich

Upper King Street had a forlorn look three years ago. Many long-established shops in this onetime premier downtown center of furniture, dry goods and other basic retail stores had left as consumers migrated to shopping malls and centers with acres of convenient parking elsewhere in the region. But PeopleMatter CEO Nate DaPore saw something else when he toured the neighborhood in search of a new headquarters for his software company that was growing rapidly by meeting the human-resource needs of restaurants, hotels and other service businesses.

What he saw was a place where PeopleMatter’s engineers, analysts and other high-tech staffers would be “interacting with people of all walks of life…where they would be immersed in their work and be inspired to create the innovative products we build today,” as he said at the 2011 ceremony to announce PeopleMatter’s planned relocation to 466 Upper King from the Navy Yard in North Charleston.

As part of the $19.9 million relocation, the dilapidated building was stabilized and retrofitted for the needs of the high-tech company that PeopleMatter is. But the structural bones were carefully restored to honor and protect the building’s historic character.

Local America Charleston asked DaPore about the now-accomplished relocation in a recent wide-ranging interview where he also talked about the sensitive issue of how Charleston can achieve a balance between its two economies — fast-growing, well-established tourism and equally fast-growing but newly emerging high tech.

The Q & A:

How does the experience of PeopleMatter’s new intensely urban location on Upper King Street compare with what you anticipated when you decided to make the move?

Nate DaPore, CEO, PeopleMatterWe have been pleased with our decision to move to Upper King Street. Having our headquarters in downtown Charleston, rather than segmented off in a business park like large companies tend to do, was an important decision to encourage our employees’ work/life balance and our recruiting efforts. Our team members really enjoy being a part of the community and having access to a variety of places to eat, shop and visit.

What about your plan to expand on Upper King?

We just expanded a month ago with the opening of our sales and service center across the street from our HQ in the 483 King building, which added an additional 10,000 square feet to our office space.

Would you like to see other high-tech companies move to the Upper King Street area?

Yes, tech companies like to be in clusters. Look at regional tech cities like Austin and Raleigh, which were named the No.1 and No. 2 Fastest-Growing Cities by Forbes this year, respectively. They have created areas where tech companies reside so they can create a network effect where tech entrepreneurs can share ideas and grow together. Growing Charleston’s knowledge economy, especially in the downtown area, helps support growth for us all.

Upper King Street has become the center of nightlife in the city. The city government, reacting to what it says has become a “tipping point,” is moving to create an Entertainment District to better manage nightlife. Was the atmosphere on Upper King Street different three years ago?

Yes, there were fewer businesses on Upper King Street when we moved here, and real estate prices were appealing at the time. Over the last several years, a lot of new businesses have opened up on Upper King. We support free enterprise and are excited to see growth continue for Charleston. We, as a city, are at an inflection point in mapping out our growth plans for the next decade.

Do you support creation of the Entertainment District, where there could be no additional bars and restaurants with late-night drinking?

We support our local businesses and community here in Charleston. We encourage the city to give all stakeholders a voice in this discussion and hope the city will evaluate what is best for the community after hearing feedback from everyone.

Charleston’s tourist economy is strong and continues to grow. There are now 5 million visitors coming to the region annually. How does the emerging knowledge economy, of which PeopleMatter is part, fit in with the more-established tourist economy? How do the two economies achieve a balance?

The city has to look at its master plan, as any rapidly growing city would do, to ensure a proper diversity of businesses and sound planning. This is really the crux of the current debate. How should our city emerge over the next 10 – 20 years and what changes should be done now to ensure great growth, a secure and safe city, and place people want to live and work? This is the key question the city and its residents that needs to address. I would further ask us all, what type of city does Charleston want to become? These are the questions we need to address. All voices should be included in the discussion on what is best for the residents and businesses of the city to ensure we chart the best path forward for everyone.

Charleston’s service economy has a comparatively lower pay structure. Has that had an influence on the pay structure for high-tech jobs, where salaries for positions like engineer, developer and programmer are less than what is paid in Raleigh and Austin, which have more established high-tech economies? Does that gap hinder high-tech recruitment, especially among potential in-migrants?

No, I don’t believe the service industry wages have had much effect on the high tech wages at this time. That certainly may change as the high tech community has more and more impact on the community. The high tech wages here are a function of supply of available high tech talent and demand for that high tech talent. The more tech businesses that move here or startup here and the less availability of experienced high tech talent could certainly push up wages in the area as has been the case in larger tech communities such as San Francisco. Charleston offers a unique work/life environment that makes people want to live here, and from a recruitment standpoint, that helps tech companies attract talent.

Regional Charleston public K-12 schools are making progress on closing the minority achievement gap — as reported here — but the high schools appear to be making less progress in producing graduates who achieve at the Proficient and Advanced levels (beyond the Basic level) — as reported here. Do knowledge-based companies like PeopleMatter need to see more graduates at those higher levels of achievement?

Yes, education certainly plays a significant role in hiring of technology-based talent. The more we as a community move to help our high schools start or strengthen their curriculums and student achievement the better we will all be as a community. Programs like the Tri-County Cradle to Career (TCCC) initiative are working to help in this area. I would also encourage high schools to strengthen or start their STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) programs to support more jobs not just in technology but employers like Boeing and the life science community here in Charleston.

Photo credit: Charleston City Paper.

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