December 12, 2012

Charleston Software Firm Benefitfocus Unveils New Offices, New Jobs

Brendan Kearney  /  Post and Courier

Benefitfocus will hire 300 people in the next two years, the Daniel Island software company announced Tuesday as part of a ceremony officially unveiling its newly outfitted Design + Engineering building.

Most of that growth will be on Daniel Island, where the company's headquarters and the expansion offices were built as neighbors in 2006, said co-founder and CEO Shawn Jenkins.

The new building, most of whose 80,000 square feet were unfinished until this year, eventually will be able to house 475 employees –- considerably more than the 325 who now work in the headquarters of the self-described "largest benefits technology provider in the U.S."

Jenkins called the new office space "a social workspace for the best minds in all the country to be attracted to as we grow" and a "most awesome place to hang out."

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called Benefitfocus a "great, classic American success story" and the new offices and hiring plans a "wonderful signal of continued growth."

When dozens of Benefitfocus employees assembled outside the building responded by jangling their company's traditional cowbells, Gov. Nikki Haley, the next speaker at the afternoon ribbon-cutting, was ready with a riff.

"There's one thing I noticed: We need more cowbells," she said in a reference to a famous "Saturday Night Live" skit. "We are about to have about 300 more cowbells."

Benefitfocus, which was founded in 2000, now has 18 million users on its benefits-management platform in all 50 states and 66 countries, Jenkins said. In addition to the Daniel Island complex, the company has offices in Greenville, Oklahoma and San Francisco and more than 700 employees in total.

While the new offices were designed with user-interface and data-manipulation specialists in mind, the projected hiring spree also will include workers who help customers use the firm's software.

"You don't have to be a software engineer," Jenkins said.

The new space has a spare-no-expense feel about it. The third floor features hardwood floors and exposed brick, coffee machines and couches, antique light bulbs, Fender guitars and even a red Ducati motorcycle to set the mood for creative collaboration. A big video room is in the works.

The second floor alo is now occupied, and there is room for expansion in almost 20,000 square feet on the first floor.

David Thorn, an analyst who was hired at the company about a year ago, moved into the new building a few months ago. At headquarters, there was "definitely a lot of competition for focus to get stuff done," he said.

"Over in this building it's definitely much easier," the 39-year-old Daniel Island resident said, noting his entire information security team is grouped together. "I definitely feel more relaxed here."

Haley said she was impressed, calling the open work atmosphere contagious.

"I'm jealous," Haley said to Jenkins and his family on her way out of the new office. "I want to be them when I grow up."