December 17, 2013

Benefitfocus Breaks Ground On Campus Expansion

Liz Segrist  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

Several hundred Benefitfocus Inc. employees gathered today on the tech firm's Daniel Island campus to celebrate the groundbreaking of its expansion.

"Benefitfocus is really just getting started," CEO Shawn Jenkins said to loud cheers and cowbells ringing from associates, as well as local and state officials.

The Daniel Island-based tech firm, which provides cloud-based software for employee benefits, plans to create 1,200 jobs and triple the size of its current Berkeley County headquarters campus from 13 acres to 40, the S.C. Commerce Department announced Monday.

Jenkins sees huge capacity for Benefitfocus to grow, as the U.S. health care and employee benefits systems need technology to modernize.

U.S. employers spend more than 30% of their revenue, or some $1.6 trillion a year, on providing employee health benefits, Jenkins said. Of the 18,000 large employers in the United States –- those with more than 1,000 employees –- Benefitfocus currently sells to 379.

"We've got a long runway ahead of us. ... There's a huge demand for what we're doing. We're doing everything we can to keep up," Jenkins said.

The additional capacity will enable Benefitfocus to recruit an additional 1,200 employees, more than doubling its current 800 workers. Benefitfocus seeks software engineers, Web programmers, data scientists, mobile computing specialists, sales professionals and project managers, Jenkins said.

To fill its workforce pipeline, Benefitfocus plans to continue working with local high schools and higher education institutions around the state, including a new Benefitfocus scholarship at the College of Charleston. The company will also recruit around the country for skilled technology hires.

"It's our job to make sure the workforce is ready," Gov. Nikki Haley said after the groundbreaking. "As we get more advanced in technology, as we get more advanced in manufacturing, we're closely working with our technical colleges and universities to make sure we're staying up to par with our workforce."

Campus expansion

The expansion will increase Benefitfocus' headquarters to nearly 500,000 square feet.

The first of five new buildings on the campus will be 145,000 square feet and dubbed the Customer Success Center. It will be as big as Benefitfocus' current two buildings combined.

The center will house customer service employees, as well as training and certification programs for employees, customers and partners. It is set to open in the first quarter of 2015 and employ 650 people.

"We're already kind of busting at the seams, so we will be eagerly awaiting that building," Jenkins said.

Another 145,000-square-foot building will be for design and engineering and is planned to house roughly 600 new hires. The construction start date has not been determined.

The remaining buildings and additional hires will come as the company's growth continues, Jenkins said, declining to give a projected completion date.

Benefitfocus also plans to build a welcome center that will include conference space, a cafe and outdoor seating overlooking a field, and a lake with a trail around it. Jenkins envisions a "community within a community," with open space where employees can eat meals or take part in recreational activities during breaks.

"You know you're getting a big company when you're getting a cafe," Jenkins said, a nod to other tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, that are known for having open and creative office spaces.

Founded in 2000, Benefitfocus weathered the dot-com bust, 9/11 and the recession, and it has grown by revenue and employees every year, Jenkins said. The company went public in September.

Today, the Charleston-based company also has offices in Greenville, San Francisco and Tulsa, Okla.

Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis said this announcement is one of the most significant economic development announcements in the county's history.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the expansion "represents the single largest combination of capital investment and job creation in our history."

"If, before today, there was any doubt about the Charleston region's role in the knowledge-based, high-tech, computer software economy in America, today answers that question in the most positive way," Riley said. "This is the Silicon Harbor."