Smart Wires CEO Peter Wells explained its move to NC
Peter Wells, CEO of electrical technology company Smart Wires, believes his company is on the cusp of serious growth in the coming years.
But that growth, Wells believes, is difficult to manage in the San Francisco area, where the company is based since it was founded in 2010.
Last week, Smart Wires, which makes technology to efficiently manage energy on energy grids, announced that it was moving its Bay Area headquarters to Durham. It was a move that would eventually get Triangle some 250 jobs, and North Carolina offered the company a $ 2.8 million incentive package to make it happen.
In an interview with The News & Observer, Wells said the decision was about access to talent. In California, he said, competition between companies has become fierce and the cost of living is driving employees to the entry level.
“It’s pretty hard to find people (and) love when you do,” Wells said in an interview with Zoom.
And because of the nature of his company’s business, producing technology for power grids, the company often hires specialized electrical engineers, including many of the doctors. And other companies and industries are constantly trying to leave them.
“Talent is getting the kind of harvest of other industries that can pay more money than you see in energy,” Wells said. “It’s a challenge.”
With the company about to boost its growth in the coming months, Wells believes it’s time to move headquarters. And since the company’s lease ran out by the end of the year, it began a nationwide search.
Smart Wires ended up narrowing its search to five cities, Well said, including Austin, Atlanta, Denver, the Triangle and its existing location in Union City, California.
Triangle, Wells said, has the best score across the study in its review thanks to the cost of living, existing power-tech companies and local universities.
“There are other (power) companies here, like Hitachi ABB,” Wells noted. And “NC State is doing well in this area. Duke has a really good electrical engineering program. There are other colleges around, and Georgia Tech is not that far away. I mean a lot of things in the area. . ”
It’s also – at least at the moment – reasonably priced, Wells said, especially compared to places like Boulder, Colorado, and Austin.
“The cost of living and housing is clearly going to increase (in the Triangle),” he said, “because companies are coming in and they’re investing … but there’s still a long way to go before it arrives” at California levels.
Wells is familiar with the Triangle, though much has changed since he last arrived. He worked at the GE plant in Wilmington between 2003 and 2010, and visited Raleigh frequently. Since then, he said, the venue’s cultural facilities, from bars and restaurants to music and cafes, have improved significantly.
The company expects to open its research-and-development lab in Durham later this year. It currently guards space in southern Durham County near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Some of the company’s approximately 140 employees will move to Triangle – but most of them will stay in California or work remotely. Nearly 40% of the company’s employees work abroad.
Right now, nearly 15% of Smart Wires ’business is in the U.S. The company is actually active in South America, the UK and Australia, where countries are actually investing in efforts to modernize their power grids, Wells said.
But Wells believes the U.S. market could be a significant growth area in the coming years, as investments are drawn in wind and solar energy. Smart Wires technology helps utility providers connect their grids to wind turbines and solar panel farms and helps them efficiently manage the power flowing from them.
Wind turbines and solar panels are often built away from traditional power grids, which complicates how utility companies can effectively manage their energy.
“In England, all renewable power is generated in Scotland and offshore in the North Sea. But all that is demanded is in the south of England,” Wells said, adding that most countries have similar renewable- before, with the US “You can’t just just move power. And everybody is running on these issues, so they don’t have enough capacity, and they’re running into congestion issues.”
Wells said the U.S. will see an increase in investment in the modernization of power grids across the country, so they can cope with more alternative-energy connections. The company is carefully watching what will be included in an infrastructure bill currently being debated in Congress, and hopes it will provide incentives to modernize power grids.
“Honestly, even without the (infrastructure bill),” Wells said, the equipment “needs to be modernized. They can’t avoid it. So we think that the U.S. market over time … maybe will be more like 30 to 50% ”of the company’s business.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism adventure program. N&O retains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate.