Big donations, big expansions and big plans for the future – Live Oak Bank looks to grow in Wilmington

In 2013, Live Oak Banks received significant incentives, $250,000 from Wilmington and $325,000 from New Hanover County, to promote high-end job growth. Engagement Director J.C. Smith said expansion would help make good on the bank’s end of those deals.

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Live Oak Bank’s campus and headquarters in Wilmington. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON – In the last week, Live Oak Bank made several big announcements including a record fourth-quarter for 2016, plans for at least one new building on its campus, and a $250,000 donation to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Port City Daily spoke with J.C. Smith, engagement director for Live Oak Bank, and Kate Groat, director of corporate philanthropy, about the bank’s recent moves and what the Wilmington-based company plans for the future.

“We’re focused on sensible growth,” said Smith. “That said, we’re really at capacity in our current buildings.”

Smith said about 400 of the company’s 434 employees work at two buildings on the bank’s campus, between Independence Boulevard and Shipyard Boulevard.

“That number changes all the time,” added Groat. “We had four start today.”

Live Oak Bank’s workforce has grown by about 20 percent annually, a rate Smith said he sees as sustainable. That means their Wilmington workforce could more than double to 1,000 employees in five years, and reaching as many as 2,500 by 2027.

While Smith said the immediate focus was on a third building for the campus, plans for a fourth were also in the works.

“We definitely have plans to continue to grow,” he said.

To accommodate this, Smith said Live Oak Bank presented the city with a request for a special use permit, to allow at least one 64,000 square-foot building. The plan will be reviewed in March by the city’s Planning Commission, but Smith said he is very optimistic it will be approved.

“The city has been good to us. As much as we’ve tried to give back to the community, the community has supported us,” Smith said.

In 2013, Live Oak Bank received significant incentives, $250,000 from Wilmington and $325,000 from New Hanover County, to promote high-end job growth. Smith said expansion would help make good on the bank’s end of those deals, which required it to develop jobs paying more than $80,000.

“We hope to break ground this summer, and be moved in by the fourth quarter of 2018,” Smith added. “These aren’t just stacks of cubicles, though. Our campus is really something special and we want to continue that as we expand.”

Live Oak Bank follows a trend of work spaces that cater to millennial employees.

“We’re about 70 percent millennial,” Smith said. “There’s a certain expectation about what a workplace will be like and we embrace that.

“Look, all enlightened companies know that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers,” Smith said. “And if you’re doing those two things well, taking care of your team and your customers, then it will absolutely generate the numbers you want to see for your shareholders.”

Smith and Groat said it was – in a “roundabout way” – care of their employees that lead to the donation to New Hanover Regional Medial Center. The $250,000 donation to the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital lead NHMRC to rename the hospital lobby for Live Oak Bank.

“The donation seemed like a natural extension of our desire to do everything we can do for our folks. I know this might sound like a roundabout explanation, but it’s consistent with our business culture. We ask asked our employees what was really important to them, in terms of what they wanted to see in their workplace. These told us physical fitness and they told us dogs, so we built a fitness complex, and we built a dog park right here on campus.

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The Live Oak Bank hangar, under construction, due to be completed in August, 2018. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

“Now, a lot of our young employees are getting married, getting settled down, getting houses, and you know what that means — babies. And, like I said, we want to do everything we can for our employees, but building a birthing center and a nursery on our campus seemed impractical, so this was the next best thing.”

Groat added that giving back to the community, especially in a way that fits with the philosophy of the bank and its employees, “felt like the right thing.”

She added, “We consider it a privilege to give back, and NHRMC was the perfect recipient. We have had – and will have – many employees pass through the doors of the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital.”

Smith said in addition to breaking ground on the new campus building, Live Oak Bank also looks forward to seeing more hires for both Live Oak Bank and nCino, the bank’s cloud-based banking spinoff, as well as the completion of the Live Oak hanger at Wilmington International Airport, which is scheduled for completion in August.