By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — While a news conference took place on South Man Street Thursday morning, announcing the merger of two high tech companies, across the street two vacant iconic buildings sat awaiting development of a new downtown.
Not far from the first block of South Main Street, the empty lot where the Hotel Sterling once stood remains undeveloped.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership — the steward of the city’s downtown — used a baseball analogy to explain the significance of Thursday’s announcement of the merger of two local software and digital marketing solutions companies that is expected to result in more high-paying tech jobs in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“You don’t win baseball games by just hitting home runs,” Newman said at LSEO.com’s offices at 62 South Main St. “You win the game by hitting a lot of singles and doubles and getting runners in scoring position. That’s how you win the game.”
UM Technologies, a leading software development firm with offices in Moosic, New York City, Pittsburgh and Canada, Thursday announced the acquisition of LSEO.com, a Wilkes-Barre-based digital marketing company founded by entrepreneur Kristopher B. Jones.
Jones, 40, who founded the internet marketing company, Pepperjam, in 1999, said LSEO will remain headquartered on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre and he will continue as CEO, also joining UM Technologies as partner and chief digital officer.
“This acquisition marks a new chapter in my career where I get to help build a billion dollar business right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Jones said. “Over the coming months, we intend to make considerable investments in people and infrastructure here. It’s my goal in LSEO and UM Technologies to help build the most celebrated and impactful technology company to ever originate from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.”
Scott Stiner, CEO of UM Technologies, called Jones “a local success story, but also one of the most sought-after entrepreneurs in the U.S.”
Stiner said Jones’ expertise in building successful businesses like Pepperjam, ReferLocal, APPEK Mobile Apps and LSEO, along with his 20 years experience as a digital marketer, make him a welcome addition to the UM Technologies team.
“The merger of LSEO and UM Technologies opens the door to future economic growth here in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Stiner said. “This is an area where tech jobs can be built. We expect more major announcements within the next 45-90 days. We are excited to prove the model that Northeast PA can be a tech hub for world class services.”
Newman took it all in and said the announcement is more evidence that downtown Wilkes-Barre continues to emerge as the region’s innovation district.
He said more announcements like this — singles and doubles, if you will — will make the development of the Sterling site more attractive to potential developers.
“The more that we reinvigorate the downtown business climate, the more it leads to a tipping point where it becomes advantageous to explore new construction,” Newman said.
That prompted Misericordia University President Dr. Thomas Botzman to say, “And this is a serious double here.”
Mayor George said, “This is a great day for Wilkes-Barre.”
Wico van Genderen, president/CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, said South Main Street is turning into “an innovation center of excellence.” He said with Wilkes University at one end of the city and King’s College at the other end, along with Misericordia University, Penn State University and Luzerne County Community College close by, the region has a large brain pool to draw from for jobs like those to be offered at UM Technologies and LSEO.com.
“There are a lot of great minds at work here,” van Genderen said. “Starting with Kris Jones and Scott Stiner. And there are a lot of great minds coming out of our local colleges and universities. Downtown Wilkes-Barre is becoming a great place to practice entrepreneurial innovation.”
Jones expects to hire three to five digital marketers immediately. He said Stiner will also be looking for additional people. He said the jobs to be offered will start at around $40,000 per year.
Jones also expects to see some sort of infrastructure investment soon.
“That could be by any developer out there,” he said. “Maybe even us.”
Stiner said the merger denotes the beginning of the implementation of a master plan for his company and Jones’ operation.
“I expect both of us to expand our services,” Stiner said. “I think you will see more diversification and services offered nationally and internationally.”
Stiner explained he and Jones look for industries where technology can be used to make an inefficient company more efficient. He said by using technology, a poorly performing company can get better, thereby earning more money and saving money for its customers.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, Mayor Tony George and representatives of Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey all attended the announcement.