By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Local internet entrepreneur Kris Jones announced plans Thursday to create dozens of high-paying technology jobs in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
LSEO.com, a Wilkes-Barre-based digital marketing company he founded, was acquired by UM Technologies, a leading software development firm with offices in Moosic, New York City, Pittsburgh and Canada.
The combined companies will offer an array of technology and internet-based services to clients and will add jobs in technology, software development and internet marketing over the next two years that will pay annual salaries of more than $40,000, Jones said.
“As part of this acquisition, I will continue in my current role as chief executive officer as LSEO and importantly, intend to keep the company here in Wilkes-Barre,” Jones said at a press conference in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Jones, 40, founded the internet marketing business Pepperjam in 1999 as a gourmet food company in the Innovation Center in Wilkes-Barre while he was a graduate student at Villanova University.
It quickly grew into one of the largest affiliate networks and performance marketing agencies. The company was sold to GSI Commerce in 2009. EBay acquired it in 2011 for $2.4 billion and it recently reverted back to its original name Pepperjam.
Since he sold Pepperjam, Jones has built a portfolio of successful businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Among them, he founded ReferLocal, an e-commerce business that features deals from local businesses and has generated nearly $20 million in revenue while saving millions of dollars for its customers, Jones said.
Jones founded LSEO.com in 2014 with a personal investment of $150,000 and it currently employs 17 full-time and part-time staff.
The company helps businesses with online marketing and specializes in “search engine optimization,” the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a website by ensuring it appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
ReferLocal will move from its current location at 62 S. Main St. in downtown Wilkes-Barre next door to 66 S. Main St. LSEO.com will expand at the building at 62 S. Main St.
“We’re going to grow as fast as the market allows us to grow and we’re growing very, very fast right now,” Jones said.
The goals are to hire in Northeastern Pennsylvania and to make the Wilkes-Barre and the Scranton areas the headquarters for the multinational company, he said.
“This is where we’ve decided to build the corporate staffs,” said Scott Stiner, chief executive officer of UM Technologies. “I think it’s incumbent on all of us to really look at this as being an area where a tech company can be built, an area where we can bring high-paying jobs, keep them in this area and even attract people to this area.”
Jones or Stiner would not discuss the financial aspects of the acquisition.
Stiner said combining the companies was “more of a stock exchange” and the hiring process has begun.
“We’re looking for programmers. We’re looking for data scientists. We’re looking for program managers. We’re looking for salespeople,” Stiner said. “All of these are high-paying white collar, technology-based jobs that will report to either Lackawanna or Luzerne County.”
State Sen. John Yudichak, State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George, representatives for Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber attended the announcement.
Wico van Genderen, president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said the addition of high-paying technology jobs marks a great opportunity for the area.
“You’re really seeing some of the amazing infrastructure that we have in this area,” van Genderen said. “You’re going to see the whole Main Street, in my opinion, turn into a real strong innovation center of excellence.”