Fast Growth Tech Company Finds New Home in Old SpaceOctober 14, 2016 | By: Andy Levine
Episode 1 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”
This blog post is a full transcript of a podcast that was posted to iTunes on October 17, 2016. It explores the location search of iCIMS, a fast-growing technology company in Central New Jersey. Their search took them to a revitalized space that formerly housed 6,000 scientists and engineers for Bell Labs.
The Project’s co-hosts Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother interviewed Len Carella iCIMS’ Vice President of Infrastructure and Shared Services and Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development.
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Read the transcript below:
Andy Levine (DCI): Today’s podcast takes a look at a technology company that had rapidly grown to 600 employees and they found themselves spread across multiple buildings, they were on different floors within those buildings, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Plus their projections brought them to grow into about 2,000 employees, so they finally hit the wall, they said, “Enough, we have to find a new home.”
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): And their search took them to a really amazing space. This is a former research laboratory constructed in 1962 with a long history of innovation. They hit some bumps along the way, but with the help of the pioneering developer, our story has a happy ending.
Andy: So welcome to episode one of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions. I’m Andy Levine with Development Counsellors International.
Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother also with Development Counsellors International or DCI for short, and Andy’s co-host of The Project.
Andy: So Patience, this is our first episode, we probably should tell everyone a little about The Project.
Patience: Every two weeks we plan to bring you a new story and take you inside a recent corporate location decision. We’ll talk to company executives, economic developers, real estate professionals, site selection consultants, really anyone willing to speak with us.
Andy: And we’re excited to get started. So our first story has two main characters. Let’s introduce you to Len Carella. Len is vice president of Infrastructure & Shared Services at a company called iCIMS. They’re based in central New Jersey.
Len Carella (iCIMS): iCIMS were a privately held recruiting software provider in Matawan, New Jersey. It’s a SAS product, and our software helps businesses manage their entire hiring life cycle for their organization. Our chairman and CEO, Colin Day, founded the company back in 2000, and we’re growing 30% employee wise year over year, and we’re currently at about at about 600 employees.
Patience: iCIMS’ current office setup was a problem.
Len: So one of the things that we believe makes us successful is the fact that we’re all, best majority of us, are in one place during the same period of time working together, and that collaborative team aspect is what has…the company was started with and what has been successful for us to grow. So with our growth rate and the limited availability left in our current location, it was…the choice was either to move in mass or split the company up into multiple locations. So for us the choice was easy–we want to stay together. The tough part was deciding where we’re going to do that and how we’re going to do that.
Andy: So Len is character number one in our story. The second character is a man named Ralph Zucker. Ralph is the president of Somerset Development. He’s a very successful real estate developer in New Jersey, he has a reputation for tackling unusual projects, and one of the most unusual ones in his portfolio is a project called Bell Works. Ralph acquired the former Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, New Jersey. This is an amazing place. Built in 1962 by a world class architect, at one time it held over 6,000 of the smartest scientists and engineers in the world.
Eight Nobel Prize winners worked there at different times, and some amazing discoveries came out of this, including the foundation for the first cell phone. But in 2006, it was shut down and it laid vacant for a number of years until our hero, Ralph Zucker, acquired it.
Ralph Zucker (Somerset Development): In re-positioning the former Bell Labs into Bell Works, we have identified what we consider to be a unique market condition, and we’ve actually coined a term for it, a metro burb
Patience: Ralph had a vision for the rebirth of the Bell Lab facility.
Ralph: And what a metro burb is, is an urban hub, a core, a little metropolis, hence the metro in suburbia, a suburban location. And if you have enough gravitational pull, you have a large scale, mixed use, with great access, office, retail, entertainment, hospitality, residential, health, wellness, fitness, everything that you’d find in a metropolis and you can locate that in a great suburban location, that core will have more demand than you can supply.
Andy: Has it been surprising to you how much the tech community seems to have embraced what you’re doing?
Ralph: Yes, it has been surprising to me. Frankly, when we planned Bell works starting in 2008, tech was not heavily on our mind or not predominantly on our mind, and I’m not sure how much vibrancy the tech sector had in this area as a whole. I think what’s happening is sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart, and what we’re getting is the…a rebirth of tech in New Jersey in general and our readiness to supply a great location, a great vibe to some great minds.
Andy: So let’s talk about how these two groups came together. We asked Ralph about his first meeting with Collin Day, who is the CEO of iCIMS.
Ralph: iCIMS came in, I’d like to say it was about a year ago, maybe it was a little bit less the first time they walked in, and I remember Collin Day coming through, and when they were walking around, Bell Works looked nothing like it looks like today, it was a…almost a war zone. We were ripping up old flooring, we were really still perfecting our architectural plans and our vision. There was earth-moving equipment in the pedestrian street and in our main atriums, dust flying, you name it, it was really a construction site. And to their credit, they walked through, and you could see in Collins’ eyes and that they really wanted to come here.
Patience: But according to Ralph, not much happened after that visit.
Ralph: Well, to be honest, things sort of went dark after that and they did not take the temporary space here that they were looking for, they went ahead and took temporary space somewhere else.
Andy: So time passes, major renovations and constructions take place at Bell works, and iCIMS real estate broker, a man named Joe Sarno with CBRE, he convinces the team at iCIMS to take a second look at Bell Works. We asked Len about that meeting. How do you go back and sort of say, “You know what, we really should re-look at this option.” Tell us about that conversation with the senior team.
Len: Sure. So again, going back to the passion that Ralph brought, being able to actually be in a position to have some artist renderings and architectural drawings as to what the space could look like for us and the amount of people that we could put into the building and then quite frankly, you know, starting to talk about, you know, rent…rental rates and incentives.
The conversation started and Ralph and I worked very diligently because we both wanted the same thing at the end of the day, and I think I said to him multiple times that, I’m looking for a 16-year partnership, you know, a year after we sign a lease to build out the space and then it’s a 15-year lease. So we’re going to be relying on each other for at least the next 16 years, let’s see how we can make this work, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into being able to put all the pieces together to be able to present it back not only to Collin and the other senior executives here, but then eventually to the board to gain approval to make this move because it’s obviously a very large commitment.
Patience: So things were getting serious, but as Len says, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to go before the deal was finalized.
Ralph: I remember there were some…quite a few stumbling blocks and one of them was, in a way, cultural. And when I say cultural, it was the fact that Bell Works, philosophically, we want to keep the identity larger than any single company. So their conversation was, “Where do we put our sign outside the building?” And I was like, “Well, you can’t put a sign outside the building.”
So that was a potential stumbling block, and I remember walking around with a Collin Day, sort of when the deal was closed, and we’re walking around, this is after many, many meetings of his team being here and now the CEO’s walking through, and this was a very significant moment and it was pivotal. And Collin mentioned, “I need signage.”
And I expressed myself and I said, “It’s really something we can’t do as much as we want to have you here. And it’s not something that you should want to do either because I know that you’re coming here because you buy in to the ethos and to the vision that is Bell Works.” But while we were standing there, I looked outside and lo and behold there was a beautiful flagpole. And I said to Collin, I said, “I’ll tell you what, we will fly the iCIMS flag from that flagpole, and he stuck out his hand and he said, “Deal.”
Andy: The final hurdle, iCIMS needed the state of New Jersey to step up and support the project financially. Here’s Len.
Len: The other thing that we did look at was to be fully transparent. To stay in New Jersey is not the cheapest thing as well and we wanted to be able to take advantage of the [inaudible 00:10:58] New Jersey tax rebate situation and…but we also had to protect ourselves.
So I actually, in my previous job, had a lot of experience in the Scottsdale, Phoenix, Arizona area because I had facilities out there and looked at some properties out there are so that if we were going to relocate for cost effective reasons, we had an alternative and had some interesting opportunities there, but obviously didn’t want to do that and relocate everybody if we didn’t have to. Thankfully the state came through with our tax credits and we were able to stay in New Jersey.
Patience: So the deal was coming together but both parties needed a bit of motivation to get to the finish line, and that’s where a bottle of 30-year-old scotch came into the picture.
Ralph: When we knew the deal was being…was actually being signed, we jokingly…we were talking, Joe Sarino and myself and Len from iCIMS and we said we’re going to go out and buy a bottle of a 30-year-old Macallan to crack open when we sign the lease. And I went out and bought that 30-year-old Macallan, and lo and behold,there were still details back and forth and more markups to the lease documents and it was dragging on and on.
Len: Ralph made a joke to me saying, “Len, we thought we were close a while ago and we’re still at this.” He says, “You know, that bottle of 30-year-old scotch I bought,” then he says, “by the time we finally get this done, it’s going to be a 31-year-old bottle of scotch.” Thankfully, it didn’t become a 31 year. We were still in the 30th year…but it did taste very sweet when Collin and he finally got to sit down and sign the lease.
Andy: So construction is now underway and iCIMS will be ready to move into their space, their new space, in May of 2017. So Patience, let’s dissect this a bit, let’s share sort of our takeaways, key takeaways about this project.
I’m going to kick us off. To me, I’m going to start with Bell Works. To me, it’s just an amazing story, you take an abandoned suburban office park and you find a guy who’s willing to breathe new life into it. Everything we read today talks about companies moving out of the suburbs and into the cities, they want to be where the talent is, they wanna be where millennials want to live. iCIMS and Bell Works basically flipped that on its head and said, “We’re going to stay in the suburbs, but we’re going to give our millennials the kind of amenities that they want in a really interesting space,” and that’s what they found at Bell Works.
Patience: Exactly and that’s what Ralph Zucker calls a metro burb. I have to say my favorite part of the story has to be this image of the flagpole. We had this impasse at a very pivotal moment in the story, we have Collin Day saying, “We need to have our name on the building,” we have Ralph Zucker on the other end saying, “We can’t put your name on the building, that’s not what Bell Works is about,” and, they’re standing there, Ralph looks out the window and he sees this flagpole and he has this stroke of inspiration and he says, “I’ll give you the flag.” And Collin Day kind of sticks out his hand and says, “Deal.” I thought that was a really creative solution in a very tense moment in her story.
Andy: It’s a great part of the story. So that takes us through our first episode, and there’s some people that we have thank. We’ll start with Len Carella and the team at iCIMS, they opened up to us, they told us their story, we appreciate that, guys. We also want to thank Ralph Zucker and his team at Somerset Development. His group is doing an amazing job bringing Bell Works back to life.
Patience: The Project is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 cities, states, regions and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.
Andy: We hope you enjoyed the episode, we hope you’ll keep listening to future episodes of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions, there are many more projects to come.