It’s no Silicon Valley, but the area known for agriculture, education and healthcare has a stable and growing technology sector, say local industry leaders who office in Lubbock.
In 2018, there were 2,300 workers with computer and mathematical occupations in Lubbock, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The employment category includes 12 job titles, like computer systems analysts, programmers, developers and support specialists.
The number of technology jobs in Lubbock increased by 830 since 2008, and by 670 jobs since 2013. There were about 230 jobs added between 2017 and 2018, but Lubbock Economic Development Alliance President and CEO John Osborne thought that could be much higher.
Technology-related jobs have been a focus of multiple LEDA initiatives in recent years. Lubbock Coding Academy, launched earlier this year through a partnership with LEDA, local colleges and Austin Coding Academy, is a technical education program that was born out of need. Osborne said his organization has heard for years, from businesses of all kinds, that trained programmers and software developers were needed in Lubbock.
The Return2LBK campaign, which aims to bring area natives and graduates of local institutions back to Lubbock, is targeted at technology, healthcare and corporate professionals. The LEDA effort compares Lubbock’s cost of living and quality of life to other hubs for those industries, like Dallas and Austin.
“It’s a growing industry, and of course it can be done right here,” Osborne said. “Why not Lubbock? We have a tier-one research institution. We’re located right in the middle of other industries. It just makes sense for it to continue to happen here.”
Cost of living, a steady workforce and a central location are common reasons three Lubbock technology businesses have chosen to work here.
Smooth Fusion, a website development company headquartered at 5502 58th St., was officially started in 2001, but the principal’s work dates back to the mid-1990s. They started big – Microsoft was their first client.
Founder and CEO Todd Knowlton had a relationship with Microsoft after he wrote a computer science textbook about a coding language the technology company worked with. The internet was fairly new, Knowlton said, and in 1996 he was asked to build Microsoft a website for their educational marketing initiatives.
“When I built that first one, they kind of never stopped asking,” Knowlton said. “That was 23 years ago, and we’re working on a Microsoft website now.”
Smooth Fusion has now worked with more than 30 groups at Microsoft, and with over 200 other companies. Other high-profile clients include Samsung, Jack Daniels, Welch’s and ebay. The company develops web products from the consulting and designing beginning through implementation and ongoing maintenance.
Knowlton said his company was lucky to start with a major client. Most subsequent accounts came through word-of-mouth, or from executives moving around companies. Smooth Fusion is also a top partner with popular content management system Sitefinity, which brings in business.
Most customers do not really care where their web developer is located, Knowlton said. They office in Texas, and that is about all most clients care to know. With the increase of remote work, Knowlton said colleagues do not need to be in the same room anymore.
“Lubbock’s a great place for us to be based. Our costs are low, we don’t fight traffic, parking’s easy, and yet we’re competing head-to-head with companies in San Francisco and Seattle,” Knowlton said. “It gives us a competitive advantage because we’re not under any pressure to lower costs, like others may be.”
The talent pool of educated workers coming from the local universities is another perk. He has hired more than 40 graduates from Texas Tech University or Lubbock Christian University for their first full-time jobs.
As someone who has been on the Lubbock technology scene for a while, Knowlton said the environment for these kinds of businesses has improved.
“It’s nice to see the size of the technical community grow,” Knowlton said. “I hear from more young people all the time, seems like, that are thinking they want to stay in Lubbock. That’s changing some, too.”
Cielo Global Holdings
Imre Szenttornyay said the timing was right in 2017 for Cielo Global Holdings to grow roots in Lubbock.
Originally founded in 2009, the chief revenue officer and one of the founders said the company looked to office in Lubbock then. Szenttornyay’s wife is from Plainview. He joked you come to Lubbock for love or money.
A development center in Mexico had a successful private-public sector partnership, where Cielo would hire local university graduates, fueling the economy. The founders hoped to create a similar system here, but at the time, Szenttornyay said not enough student were graduating with the needed skills. Those who were moved away or worked for one of the established technology businesses.
Cielo was virtually dormant, but then they saw changes in Lubbock. More people, more students and more interest in innovation brought the company here.
“If you didn’t have the type of growth that we’re having here, I don’t think we’d have the type of talent and jobs here,” Szenttornyay said. “We could have picked any of the other cities. But we rolled the dice and picked Lubbock.”
Cielo Global Holdings, which has offices all over the country, in Mexico and Barbados, is headquartered at 4747 S. Loop 289 Suite 210. They have many remote employees, too.
Cielo Global Holdings started as a merger of Cielo IT and B4 Alliance. The company is led by Szenttornyay, founder and CEO BJ Carter, chairman Rick Anicetti and president of Cielo IT Shannon Anderson.
There are four operating companies under the Cielo umbrella: Cielo IT, Cielo Alliance, Cielo Pay and Cielo Gov. Collectively, the holding company manages web development, offers a mobile wallet and rewards organization system and technology projects for government sectors.
The Cielo IT portion of the company specializes in streamlining technology needs for gym facilities.
“We’re a systems integration company,” Szenttornyay said. “We go out and build out these gym’s IT, AV, communications, networking, cabling – we do it all. Then we manage the facilities for them afterwards.”
It is a very specific vertical market. Of 40,000 gyms in the U.S., Szenttornyay said Cielo manages technology for about 700 of them, through a large client.
California-based Hoverstate was looking for a smaller city where they could establish an office that focused on a new partnership with software company Pega. They chose Lubbock.
Hoverstate opened the Pega Innovation Hub in the Courthouse Lofts, the historic building at 800 Broadway in downtown Lubbock, in 2018.
Barbie Taylor, senior manager of business solutions at the Lubbock office, said Lubbock was chosen in part because of the partnerships they built while searching for the right city, but also because the community blew away – not literally, believe it or not – Managing Partner Rob Fauver. He had a memorable interaction with a friendly Lubbockite, who gave Fauver a ride from the airport to his hotel when a ride-share service was not practical.
Hoverstate likes the community so much, Taylor said, they have brought employees from its Italian office to get an authentic American experience.
Taylor, a Brownfield area native, moved away and worked in the technology industry. Her family moved back to Lubbock, and she said she is excited to see the innovation industry flourishing here.
“You have some of the footholds here, with Tyler Technology and some of those businesses who have been here a long time,” Taylor said. “But for a new concept of a software or technology company to specifically choose Lubbock to start an office and grow in to is a different concept.”
Hoverstate calls it rural sourcing – locating in a smaller city with a great quality of life and a lower cost of living.
There is room to grow in the garden level of the Courthouse Lofts, Taylor said, and Hoverstate hopes to do so.