By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Local entrepreneur Kristopher B. Jones Monday said he is focused on making the city a tech hub.
“It’s an ambitious goal, but I believe the model I have works,” Jones said.
Jones announced the acquisition of properties located at 16 and 24 South River St., formerly owned by GUARD.
Jones said plans for the acquisition include a business accelerator and home for numerous high-growth Northeastern Pennsylvania businesses, including LSEO.com, Special Guest App, and KBJ Capital.
A ribbon-cutting and brand-unveiling is being planned for May.
“I recognize it’s a super-progressive project,” Jones said. “If you are a local, regional, or national technology or technology-enabled business and want to learn more on how the new accelerator building can help you scale your business, stay tuned for more info or please reach out.”
Jones said Monday’s announcement represents one of the most exciting days of his entrepreneurial journey.
“The journey started in 2004 when I first opened the doors to Pepperjam and has led to the launch of multiple successful technology businesses that combined have helped jump-start and inspire the entrepreneurial culture of Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Jones said. “I remain committed to building and supporting innovative companies that provide high-paying jobs and positively impact our region.”
A Berkshire Hathaway GUARD spokesperson said: “With the expansion of Berkshire Hathaway GUARD operations into the Tower on the Square and existing buildings on Market Street, we are happy that the use of the River Street buildings will continue in the tradition of local economic development.”
Berkshire Hathaway currently has 664 full-time employees in Wilkes-Barre. In its new location at 39 Public Square, Berkshire Hathaway has occupied six floors. When the building’s remodeling is completed, the company will have space to accommodate approximately 1,000 employees.
Jones said his plan had been in the works for 18 months. He said he was looking to relocate his three offices on South Main and East Northampton streets.
“When GUARD announced it was acquiring the Wilkes-Barre Center Building, I toured the buildings on River Street,” Jones said. “The acquisition was completed Friday.”
State funding OK’d
In August 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf announced $1 million in new funding for Jones to develop the two buildings to serve as the headquarters for all of Jones’ companies, as well as the home of the region’s first start-up accelerator program.
“I’m pleased to provide funding to both develop vacant properties and bolster a start-up in the Wilkes-Barre region,” Wolf said in announcing the grant. “My administration sees the long-term benefits of supporting projects that provide for expansion, economic development and jobs, and that align with the goals of the many business leaders and entrepreneurs in NEPA.”
The project will also house the region’s first start-up accelerator program that will give local start-ups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to work directly with Jones to take their company or concept from incubation to a fully-launched, funded, and revenue-generating business.
Jones said the two buildings are iconic. He said growing up on the West Side, he has driven over the Market Street Bridge for 16 years, going past the two structures.
Jones said his entrepreneurship began with Pepperjam and he later created created an investment fund.
“I’ve helped build and scale a number of NEPA businesses,” he said. “Some of them will be anchor tenants in the new buildings.”
Jones said he is looking for other businesses that are in the growth phase to locate in the buildings.
“And I’m looking to leverage the accelerator services I have,” Jones said. “My mom instilled in me a belief in myself — giving me the self-confidence I needed along with the understanding that success was unequivocally up to me.”
Jones said acquiring the two buildings is “definitely the start of a long-term commitment” to the city.
“My plan is to retire here,” he said.