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On the rise: Tech firms gobbling up real estate Sector is a leasing leader, grabbing spaces of all sizes

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DriveWealth's office in Chatham.
DriveWealth's office in Chatham. - ()

Robert Cortright has built three technology firms in the past 15 years — all focused on the finance sector — and the key ingredients haven't changed much in that time.

“The most important thing is getting talent,” he said. “And you've got to be somewhat close to New York City, especially when you run a financial services technology company.”

As Cortright has proven, you can do all that from New Jersey.

Like his first two businesses, his latest venture is based in and growing in the Garden State. The firm, DriveWealth LLC, recently leased nearly 8,000 square feet of office space in downtown Chatham after relocating from Morristown, a move fueled by the growth of its mobile investing platform and the doubling of its staff since 2012.

The deal is part of a robust, steady stream of leasing activity by tech firms in New Jersey this year. Experts say it's one of the most active sectors in the state's office market, driven by changing space needs and the growth of companies of all sizes within the industry.

Just ask Cassidy Turley, the brokerage firm that represented DriveWealth. William O'Keefe, one of the brokers in the deal, said his firm in recent months has “done transactions from as little as 1,300 square feet up to close to 100,000 square feet — and everywhere in between.”

“Some of them are smaller startups (whose) business stems off the larger tech companies, (such as) Verizon and AT&T,” said O'Keefe, a senior vice president based in Cassidy Turley's Chatham office. “They're ancillary to those services and they want to be next door.”

“On the larger side, you're seeing across the board a flight to quality,” he added.

Research from Cassidy Turley shows a flurry of deals from tech firms in the first half of 2014, including a roughly 51,000-square-foot lease in Plainsboro by Systech Solutions Inc., which provides anti-counterfeiting, authentication and other services for businesses. In the Princeton area alone, the brokerage projects that new expansion requirements by tech firms will take up to 250,000 square feet by the end of 2014.

Across northern and central New Jersey, information and technology firms accounted for 25 percent of office leases completed during the second quarter, according to an analysis of deals larger than 10,000 square feet by the brokerage firm JLL. That placed the sector behind only life sciences, which had a 27 percent share, and ahead of financial services.

Stephen Jenco, JLL's director of suburban tri-state research, noted that the industry group includes media, entertainment and electronics companies in addition to software and technology firms. Still, those involved with emerging technologies stand to become better represented among office users.

“When you think about the enhancements to mobile devices and cloud storage capabilities, these types of companies just were not in existence when you go back 10 years or 15 years ago, maybe even as recently as five years ago,” Jenco said. “(But) there are these companies that are … basically building their business around these new technologies.”

The tech industry has a deep history in New Jersey. But much like the pharmaceutical sector, experts say, the industry is undergoing a similar space transition.

“Obviously that industry has changed, and what we're seeing today is more of the startups or the mid-tier tech companies coming to the market place,” said Shawn Straka, a senior vice president at JLL. “And a big driver of that is obviously the talent is here.”

Cortright, the founder and CEO of DriveWealth, said proximity to Manhattan is key to accessing financial markets and drawing talent. The company's move to Chatham came after a 15-month period of hiring and seeking a host of regulatory approvals needed just to launch its business, which enables overseas investors to invest in U.S.-listed securities.

The company has grown from 13 to 26 employees since 2012, Cortright said. And he projects more growth in a company that does everything in New Jersey from its technology development and broker/dealer activities to sales and marketing.

Doing so requires access to skilled labor. DriveWealth found that in Chatham, a downtown, transit-oriented location that provides an easy commute from the Gold Coast and Manhattan.

“Obviously the ones out West, Google and Facebook, tend to draw a lot of talent out there, but we can find the talent here and we can house them here,” Cortright said. “And as long as it's convenient to New York City and convenient to their lifestyle, then we can attract the type of talent we need to build our business.”

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter:  @joshburdnj

Room to grow
Recent tech leases in New Jersey:

Quidsi (Amazon)
94,020 square feet
10 Exchange Place, Jersey City
Submarket: Hudson Waterfront

Systech Solutions
50,581 square feet
1 Research Way, Plainsboro
Submarket: Princeton

OFS Fitel
33,000 square feet
19 Schoolhouse Road, Somerset
Submarket: Somerset

iGate
12,800 square feet
100 Somerset Corporate Blvd., Bridgewater
Submarket: Somerset

Techno-Comp Inc.
2,958 square feet
25 Independence Blvd., Warren
Submarket: Somerset

AgreeYa Solutions Inc.
1,663 square feet
20 Independence Blvd., Warren
Submarket: Somerset

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