Charleston high-tech firm SPARC to add 310 jobs, invest $11 million

Charleston high-tech firm SPARC to add 310 jobs, invest $11 million. (provided)

After a fast-growing first few years, Daniel Island software firm SPARC aims to continue its blazing pace by adding 310 jobs and has enlisted the state of South Carolina to help make that happen.

The company is buying the Clements Ferry Road office building and land it had been leasing and plans to build another office there, according to an announcement from the governor’s office today.

It’s all part of SPARC’s goal, backed by a government incentives package, to more than double its workforce in the next four years, from about 200 people to more than 500 people by 2016. The investment is valued at $11 million.

SPARC founder and CEO Eric Bowman said the company has been considering the multi-building campus idea since about a year after moving into its 35,000-square-foot office in February 2010. He said SPARC weighed various options before deciding to build as much as 60,000 more square feet, in part because of the Home Telephone Co. fiber line that runs down that road.

“The infrastructure is here that we believe can support us long term,” Bowman said Friday.

Construction on the second building, which will be similar in design to the existing structure and sit next to it at an angle, is expected to begin next month, and the building is expected to open by the end of the year.

There are also plans for a connected auditorium to sit between the two buildings, and SPARC has its eye on a green space in the opposite corner of its new property for a third building in the future, according to a company spokesman.

In a statement, Gov. Nikki Haley praised the SPARC’s commitment to grow.

“More and more companies are realizing that South Carolina is the ‘it’ state to put down roots because they see companies like SPARC find success and grow here,” Haley said. “It shows we know the importance of supporting our existing businesses.”

SPARC, which established itself with military and government contracts but has since branched out into workplace software, is just the latest Charleston-area software company to quickly balloon from a handful of guys into a major company.

Just last week, Benefitfocus, which went from a few founders to 700 employees between 2000 and 2012, unveiled its expanded offices in a building just a short walk from its Daniel Island headquarters and announced it would hire 300 people in the next two years.

And North Charleston-based PeopleMatter announced plans a year ago to build an expanded headquarters on King Street, which is expected to open in the next few months.

Like several other companies that promise to hire in the state, SPARC is receiving government help to expand. The Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development tax credits, which will be available when hiring targets are met.

Bowman declined to specify the other elements of the incentives package negotiated with the state.

“We worked with both the county and the state and the city on the entire process to give them a transparent look at what we do in SPARC,” he said.

The company is hiring for new positions. Anyone interested in job opportunities should go to www.sparcedge.com/careers.

In an interview earlier this year, Bowman said SPARC doubled in size and revenue every quarter from August 2009, when it was started in a small office in North Charleston, through July 2011. That pace has slackened somewhat, he said, but revenues and headcount continued to grow, all without accepting outside investment capital.

SPARC was approaching capacity in its current space at 2387 Clements Ferry Road, a fairly plain and boxy one-story building with skylights, as much as a year ago. It has been recently renting flex space nearby on Daniel Island.

SPARC has also expanded its work lately, adding to its federal government services a suite of commercial workplace products, like SPARCet, a message system for co-workers to publicly praise each other, and SPARC520, which monitors a building’s energy usage in real time. Chief Evangelist (and Chief Product Officer) John Smith, the driving force behind the diversification, even sells “culture services” to other companies.

Today’s announcement not only solves SPARC’s space crunch but also helps the S.C. Department of Commerce’s jobs numbers for the year.

A November report showed the agency had recruited only half the number of jobs this year so far compared to what it in each of 2010 and 2011.

While the SPARC announcement won’t bring Commerce near the 20,000 promised jobs it recruited in each of the past two calendar years, it brings the agency haul close to 11,000 potential positions, a welcome boost.

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