Cleveland already has a concentration of experienced IT professionals, according to Rob Thomas, CEO and co-founder of Zilker Technology. What he is interested in now is developing the region’s next generation of tech talent.
Zilker, an e-commerce and application development technology company, announced last week that it will open an office in downtown Cleveland in March, though a location has yet to be determined. It will be the company’s fourth office overall and its first in the Midwest.
Thomas said the Cleveland office also will serve as a center for development, education and mentorship of younger IT talent.
“When you are growing quickly, getting talent is the top priority, and our approach to date has been to hire professional talent, which means experienced talent,” Thomas said. “We have been drawing experienced people from many sources, but in order to truly meet our goals to become a $100 million-plus company and best serve the need of our clients, we need to get into the mode of developing talent.”
Zilker, founded in 2014 and headquartered in Austin, Texas, has 315 employees. Thomas said revenue last year rose 64% to $47 million. In addition to Austin, it has offices in Belgrade, Serbia and India.
Of the company’s 160 employees in the United States, Cleveland already is home to more than a dozen professionals, recruited from a handful of local IT companies and currently working from home offices.
“I am the CEO of a company that is based in Austin and I live in the San Francisco Bay area. That epitomizes how Zilker operates,” Thomas said. “Our approach to date is to hire talent where they live.”
The decision to put an office in Cleveland was not completely driven by the number of remote workers here, as Zilker has similar numbers of satellite employees in other cities. Thomas said state and local economic development organizations helped narrow the choice to Cleveland over two other locations that were under consideration.
Zilker will receive an eight-year, 2.11% Job Creation Tax Credit from the state as part of a JobsOhio program. Greater Cleveland Partnership, the City of Cleveland and Team NEO have committed to help with employee training and will provide other funding assistance that has not yet been made public.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, whose office spearheads state efforts to encourage technology innovation, said supporting a company like Zilker is critical to growing the regional economy.
“There are some jobs that have the potential to have a multiplier effect, and this is the type of company that fits into the category,” Husted said in an interview last week. “More and more companies are willing to engage and create work-based learning experiences. That helps build the company and helps Ohio retain talent.”
Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO, said Northeast Ohio is perfectly situated for companies like Zilker that are in search of developing tech talent.
“You have access to 25-plus higher institutions here and that student pipeline,” Koehler said. “You also have access to a growing presence of younger residents in the downtown area.”
When the final site is chosen, the Cleveland office will be staffed immediately with about a dozen employees, including a “site executive” who will run the office and a “minister of culture” who Thomas said will be in charge of office culture and keep Cleveland staffers engaged with the rest of the company’s national and international offices. Thomas said the Cleveland office should grow to more than 50 employees over the eight-year term of the tax credit.
Software and web developers continue to be the fastest-growing category of tech jobs in the country. The industry’s unemployment rate is a minuscule 1.3%.
Husted said companies like Zilker that are looking to grow and are willing to create relationships with young talent should help keep more college graduates in Ohio.
“You cannot build a wall around Ohio. You have to create opportunities that both retain and attract talent,” Husted said. “We are building partnerships between education and business in Ohio with a sense of urgency.”
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