December 22, 2012

SPARC Ignition

Brendan Kearney  /  Post and Courier

Charleston Software Firm SPARC To Add 310 Jobs, Invest $11 million

A "SPARCampus" is coming.

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

SPARC not only has bought its headquarters building at 2387 Clements Ferry Road, it also has bought a few adjacent forested parcels, bringing the total to more than 14 acres, to fashion a kind of tech campus. The company plans to add another office building and an auditorium, not to mention hundreds of parking spaces.

It's all part of SPARC's goal, backed by a government incentives package, to more than double its workforce from about 190 people to 500 people by the end of 2016.

The company's investment, essentially the cost to buy and build on the land, is valued at $11 million, according to Friday's announcement from Gov. Nikki Haley's office.

SPARC founder and CEO Eric Bowman said the company has been considering the multi-building-campus idea since last winter, a year after moving into its 34,000-square-foot office in February 2010. The company's boxy, one-story building has been filled for months, and SPARC has been renting flex space nearby as well as a trailer beside the main building.

Bowman said SPARC weighed all options, listening to "a lot of pitches" from around the Charleston area and beyond. He said factors like a great deal on the land and the Home Telephone Co. high-speed fiber line along Clements Ferry Road were enough to make the company stay put.

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

Construction on the second building, which will feature skylights and an open interior like the existing structure, is expected to begin toward the end of next month.

Bowman expects the building and the auditorium to open by the end of the year. They will be connected to the offices by a covered walkway and will seat between 250 and 400 people.

Combined, they could triple the company's current square footage, while leaving room on the campus for another office building in the more distant future.

In prepared statements, Haley and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley praised SPARC's growth to date and its commitment to continue operations here.

"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 expansion offices near 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 hire 265 people by the end of 2015 and build an expanded headquarters on King Street, which is expected to open in the next few months.

Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, said he is pleased to see CDC member companies mature, but acknowledged "this growth creates great challenges" like a shortage of people qualified to fill all the open technical positions.

To that end, the CDC has launched CODEcamp, a practical computer programming curriculum, and is revamping its jobs website.

Still, Bowman believes SPARC can reach its hiring goals, thanks to Charleston's natural beauty and the city's recent tech focus.

The company is hiring for new positions. Anyone interested in job opportunities should go to

Like several other companies that promise to hire in the state, SPARC is receiving government help to expand.

The state Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development tax credits, which will be available only when the hiring targets are met. And Berkeley County approved a fee in lieu of taxes agreement which levels SPARC's property taxes, according to the county's economic development director.

Asked how he was able to win that public money, Bowman all but conceded that SPARC suggested it would leave South Carolina.

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

Bowman said SPARC plans to offer all employees a stake in the company starting in January. He has no plans to change the beloved workplace culture, as it grows by hundreds. On Friday he wore to work a yellow University of Michigan shirt under a blue university shirt.

"At the core, it's the same business, software product development," he said.