The CEOs of Peerfit, a Tampa digital fitness business, and Marxent, an augmented and virtual reality firm in St. Petersburg, made national news as they highlighted the growth of their companies.
Ed Buckley, chairman and CEO of Peerfit, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal Friday in a news story about how the low unemployment rate makes it tough to find tech talent, while Beck Besecker, Maxent founder and CEO, was on CNBC’s Squawk Box discussing his company’s deal with Macy’s for in-store virtual reality experiences.
The national attention to local firms is a signal that the area’s tech industry is maturing, and could serve to attract other businesses that want to be part of a strong tech cluster.
Peerfit, which provides a digital platform for employers to offer health and fitness benefits to their workers, has built its own workforce to nearly 100 people this year from fewer than 20 at the start of last year. Most of the staff work remotely, but it’s tough finding good people, Buckley told the Wall Street Journal. He said he had to turn down three major projects because of staffing issues.
Peerfit is not alone, Scott Brown, an economist at Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF) in St. Petersburg, told the Wall Street Journal. The low unemployment rate, which fell to 3.7 percent nationally in September, means that firms have been struggling to find good workers for a while, Brown said.
Buckley has dealt with the tight labor market in a couple of ways. Peerfit increased wages by 5 percent to 10 percent on average over the past year. And, while the company initially hired employees with four-year college degrees, it now hires people who have come from coding academies or received other vocational training.
Marxent provides augmented reality and virtual reality applications so that companies can create three-dimensional images of their products. It has worked with luxury home builder Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL) and home improvement store Lowe’s Companies (NYSE: LOW) previously.
Macy’s (NYSE: M) announced in March that Marxent was powering its virtual reality in-store furniture design experience, after a pilot at the Macy’s flagship in New York City and a handful of other stores.
On CNBC Thursday, Besecker described the Macy’s experience.
“You walk into the store. You meet an associate. They have an iPad application, and it’s very game-like, a drag-and-drop experience. You put the furniture in your floor plan, you tap a button and all of a sudden you are in your room. It typically takes 15-18 minutes for the consumer,” he said.
There are 69 Macy’s stores with virtual realty setups, with additional stores planned for next year, he said. Macy’s pays to set up the content and there’s a monthly fee based on Marxent’s 3D cloud, plus a store fee, he said.
The cost per product is between $38 and $100, but those prices will come down over time, Besekcer said.
“The whole space is about to unlock as billions of dollars are going into 3D modeling. Consumers themselves will be able to create assets,” Besecker said.