Some of the highest paying and most exciting jobs being created in the current economy are in the areas of high technology, renewable energy and medical devices. Fortunately, those are also sectors experiencing propulsive growth in Pennsylvania. Whether the companies are startups or long-established enterprises, these employers are driving the demand for an educated, tech-savvy workforce.
We talked to three companies from across the state to find out exactly how they create those high-value jobs. All are Ben Franklin Technology Partners portfolio companies and all hope to employ Pennsylvanians for years to come.
PrivacyCheq is a startup that provides cloud-based compliance and legal solutions for developers in mobile gaming, mobile apps and regulated financial institutions. Founded as AgeCheq in August 2013 by serial entrepreneur Roy Smith, the company started out offering innovative methods for the mobile app industry to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. That law requires game users younger than 13 to have parental approval.
The company eventually rebranded itself as PrivacyCheq in order to expand its offerings and include privacy compliance as an area of expertise — privacy issues have become a growing concern all over the world.
The startup, which received funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA, currently employs six full-time and two part-time workers, most of them mobile app, web and online database engineers, with several marketing and sales people and a few consultants.
Because Smith has a network of colleagues he has worked with in his other companies, he didn’t have to use a headhunter to put together “a pretty powerful team.”
With the current stable of employees, the company can handle about a billion app starts per day. While Smith doesn’t anticipate ever hiring more than a few dozen people, the staff he does hire earn a competitive wage.
“These people are experts at what they do, and they’re very highly compensated,” he explains. “No one here makes less than $50,000 a year. In high tech, we get the most done with the fewest people, but we’re willing to pay a lot for them because they have education and a good background.”
The people who work at PrivacyCheq run the gamut in age from 20s to 50s, and most live in the York area.
“In the digital economy, good engineers are hard to come by,” says Smith. “They’re worth a lot of money, because this is a growth industry.”
Community Energy Inc., Radnor
Founded in 1999 by R. Brent Alderfer, CEO, and Eric Blank, Executive Vice President, Community Energy Inc. (CEI) initially developed a market for wind energy. In 2006, the partners sold the company to Iberdrola Renewables of Spain, the largest renewable energy company in the world. But in 2009, they bought it back and turned their attention to solar energy development.
According to Tom Tuffey, the company’s vice president of project services, as of this year CEI has produced an estimated 350 megawatts of solar energy; by the end of next year it will be close to 700 megawatts — roughly the amount produced by a small nuclear power plant (five megawatts is enough for about 2,000 people).
CEI has built utility grade solar projects large and small all over the country; they are set to begin a 120-megawatt 1,000-acre project in Colorado, which will be the largest of its kind east of the Rocky Mountains.
The current staff numbers about three dozen, all professionals ranging in age from 30s to late 60s, including engineers, financial experts, attorneys and office staff. The company, which has received support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA, contracts with EPC (engineering procurement in construction) firms to do the actual building of the projects, which usually involves 60 or more tradespeople for three to four months.
According to Tuffey, the company recently hired someone to staff the trading desk — they keep an eye on the current prices of renewable energy — and just started a new engineer last week. Prior to that, CEI hired a senior developer to oversee the projects, from acquiring land to interconnecting with the power grid, a complex process.
“We’re probably the leading solar developer on the East Coast,” he says. “To find people with the depth of experience we require is a challenge, but we’re very well known in the industry, so people also come our way unsolicited. Ours is a very narrow niche world and we’re a well known entity in that world.”
He adds that there isn’t much turnover — people seem to enjoy working at CEI.
“We’re hot now, so people like a company that’s doing well,” explains Tuffey. “And everyone has access to the management team.”
OraSure Technologies Inc., Bethlehem
OraSure Technologies, an international leader in point-of-care diagnostic and medical collection devices, actually began in 1987 as SolarCare Inc., developing and marketing sunscreen towelettes.
After licensing the technology to Coppertone in 1991, the company expanded into enzyme immunoassay tests for the insurance risk assessment market and changed its name to STC Technologies. In 2000, they merged with Epitope Inc. of Beaverton, Oregon, and became OraSure Technologies Inc.
In 2002, all of the operations were moved to Bethlehem, PA.
According to Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Ron Ticho, OraSure developed the first rapid blood test for HIV in 2002; in 2004 the same HIV test was approved for use with a saliva sample; in 2011 the company launched the nation’s first and only rapid test for Hepatitis C; and in 2012 an over-the-counter version of the HIV test was approved by the FDA. With each innovation, the company increased its staff.
Now the company, supported during its growth by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA, employs 330 people, nearly all full-time. Most of these employees work in manufacturing, product development, operations and sales.
For the manufacturing jobs, it is preferred that prospective employees have prior medical device manufacturing experience. Sales and marketing personnel are expected to have college degrees. Since 2010, when OraSure moved into fully automated operations, the company has been hiring more engineers to ensure the equipment is running properly.
“The local community has been a great resource in identifying and selecting individuals,” says Ticho. “There has been very low turnover, primarily because of the benefits package we provide and the work environment.”
The company is a major player in the medical device and diagnostic products domain — they service a global market and boast a subsidiary company, DNA Genotek in Ottawa, that manufactures technology for collecting samples for use in molecular or genetic testing. Because of that, OraSure is able to attract employees from all over the country to the Lehigh Valley, as well as encourage graduates of Lehigh University and other local colleges to remain in the area.
“Prospective employees are generally attracted to the area because of the relatively low cost of living, the strong education system, and all the excellent resources and opportunities the Lehigh Valley has to offer,” enthuses Ticho. “People are happy to relocate here.”