By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — eBay Enterprise’s plan to expand and add high-paying jobs in the Innovation Center on South Main Street is proof that Wilkes-Barre can not only support a high-tech business but it can grow here, said Michael Jones, head of performance marketing.
“In this new economy, we can build businesses outside the major metropolitan areas, regardless of how complex or sophisticated they are,” said Jones, who was surrounded by eBay employees at a press conference Friday at the Innovation Center.
The company’s plan to add 35-40 jobs over the next 18 months and expand its space on the third floor of the Innovation Center is foundational in making downtown Wilkes-Barre emerge as a vibrant “innovation district,” said Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber CEO Wico van Genderen.
Innovation districts are areas where leading anchor companies like eBay connect with other businesses and entrepreneurs to stimulate growth and modernize economies to become more technology-driven. The districts partner with higher education institutions.
Van Genderen also called eBay’s plan “game-changing” for the area and said it ramps up its ability to attract more businesses of its kind.
“eBay, to me, is really at the center of a growing innovation district,” van Genderen said. “It leverages the academic capital that we already have here in Wilkes-Barre. It embraces Wilkes-Barre for what it is: a college town. eBay, in many ways, has tapped into this academic capital and turned it into a world-class economic engine for Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
eBay is investing about $500,000 in the expansion, Jones said. New jobs being created at eBay include sales, marketing, account managers, tech and engineering positions. The jobs will pay more than $50,000 a year, he said.
State Sen. John Yudichak, who joined State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski at the press conference, said he is grateful that Jones pursued his entrepreneurial path here and helped bring the global technology community to Wilkes-Barre.
“This is much more than a jobs announcement,” Yudichak said. “Making the investment they are making in the people and the places of Northeastern Pennsylvania, they are putting a flag in the ground and saying we have the talent to build businesses to compete with any metro area in the country.”
eBay Enterprise’s Wilkes-Barre site is headquarters for its affiliate marketing programs.
“We service and help some of the largest brands in the world grow their commerce efforts and we do it right here out of Wilkes-Barre,” Jones said.
Jones and current ReferLocal.com CEO Kris Jones, long-time friends, started the Internet marketing company Pepperjam with just the two of them at the current eBay site in 2004 before it was sold to GSI Commerce in 2009 and then to eBay in 2011.
Today, eBay employs nearly 80 people in Wilkes-Barre and occupies the entire third floor of the Innovation Center. OPTiMO Information Technology moved to the second floor to make way for eBay’s expansion from 8,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet. eBay extended its lease for five years in the Innovation Center.
“That growth will continue. Our growth is nothing short of amazing,” Jones said. “We haven’t succeeded in spite of Wilkes-Barre. In many ways, we’ve succeeded because of it.”
A report from Bloomberg Business said eBay plans to select a buyer for its enterprise division by July 1, when the e-commerce company plans to officially split off its PayPal division, people familiar with the matter said. A sale could value the unit between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, the people said. According to Bloomberg, eBay rose 0.9 percent to $60.52 in New York trading Tuesday, giving it a market value of about $73.5 billion.
The Innovation Center is currently 92 percent occupied with 14 companies and about 140 employees, said Joe Boylan, Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber vice president of economic development.
Plans to build another innovation center in downtown Wilkes-Barre are uncertain. Chamber officials received a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2010 to build another innovation center where the former Blum Brothers building was demolished.
Chamber and city officials joined Wilkes University officials in March as they opened the Wilkes Enterprise Center on the sixth floor of the Luzerne Bank building on Public Square.
“We worked more with Wilkes to get their Enterprise Center up and running and now that that’s in play and we’re filling this one up and filling that one up, we’re looking at a lot of different spaces to see what to do with, including that site,” van Genderen said.
He said they would have to build on the former Blum Brothers site and are wondering “whether there’s a better way to do it.”
“We are keeping our options open right now,” he said.