In a workplace centered on technical proficiency, employees at Star2Star Communications find time to house plants inside of ancient Macintosh computers, shoot Nerf guns and decorate work shelves with Mardi Gras beads. The cloud communications company is one of 67 local companies who have contracted with Manatee County for economic development incentives since 2009.
When Star2Star Communications outgrew its downtown Sarasota spot in the Bank of America building, they looked south.
“Incentivized” is a new weekly feature published Mondays in the Bradenton Herald that looks at local companies that have received public incentive money and how the assistance paid off in terms of job creation.
“We needed a larger facility, and this space was available and expandable,” said Les Freed, Star2Star’s director of communications. Freed joined Star2Star in 2010. Since the company’s move to Manatee County in 2009, the facility has grown from about 2,000 square feet to more than 50,000 square feet. They’re planning to add another 40,000 square feet of office space in late 2016 or early 2017, as well as a 10,000-square-foot employee cafeteria or “micro-market” next to the main building.
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“We want a campus environment,” said Star2Star Vice President of Sales Operations Ray Ipjian. Company executives hope the cafeteria encourages healthier eating habits and keeps employees close to the workplace.
In addition to more breathing room, an economic incentives package made the move from Sarasota to Manatee a little sweeter. When Ipjian signed the agreement on June 3, 2014, the company had 201 full-time employees. The company created nine more full-time positions in 2014 and received $18,000. The company was approved for a $700,000 economic development incentive grant, according to a spreadsheet provided to the Herald by Manatee County Economic Development Services.
And we’re still on a big hiring trend. We’ve got 40-50 seats left in the building and we’re bringing in new people every week.
Michelle Accardi, chief operating officer
“Another $28,000 is expected to be received for creating another 14 new full time jobs in 2015,” Freed said. “The funds are used to recruit new talent and hire employees who live in Manatee County. Funds have also helped fund the facilities expansion in 2014.” Star2Star has a customer service center in Georgia and plans to build another in California.
The company expects to continue its pattern of growth and Michelle Accardi, chief operating officer, says the Manatee-Sarasota area is an ideal place for businesses to grow.
“There’s a really diverse workforce around here, and being close to New College is helpful in terms of recruiting talent,” Accardi said. “And there’s a seasoned workforce, too; lots of people have come to Florida and planned on retiring, but then realized they wanted to get back in action.”
Ipjian says the University of South Florida contributes to Star2Star’s employee pool, as well.
Star2Star Communications takes voice, video, mobile and fax communications and combines them all into one system for clients like Long John Silver’s, Goodwill and Dollar General. The company provides the Manatee-Sarasota area with jobs in marketing, sales and software development.
The incentive money has helped Star2Star, Freed said, but not before the company proves its growth.
“It’s a slow process; they don’t just hand you a check,” he said.
Incentives at a glance: Star2Star Communications
Location: 600 Tallevast Road, Sarasota
Incentive approved: 2014
Incentive amount: $700,000
Projected job growth: 350
Projected average wage: $63,200
Projected capital investment: $1.5 million
Incentives paid: $18,000
Starting employment: 201
Current employment: 274, including 50 off-site employees