CastleBranch unveils new building with plenty of surprises

CastleBranch founder and CEO Brett Martin unveils the company's astroturf room in its new corporate headquarters in Wilmington. Photo by Ben Brown.
CastleBranch founder and CEO Brett Martin unveils the company’s AstroTurf room in its new corporate headquarters in Wilmington. Photo by Ben Brown.

A food truck bay.

An in-house brewery.

A tech business incubator.


An AstroTurf field.

A conference table that lifts from the ground and transforms into a chandelier.

CastleBranch had myriad unveilings large and small Friday at its new corporate headquarters in Wilmington, a building set to accommodate an innovation culture and hundreds of new hires in the coming years.

“This looks just like the Commerce office,” N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker joked on her way in with a gaggle of public and local business officials on an arranged tour that morning.

“To say that we’re all impressed and awed would be an understatement,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said.

Castle Branch's new office building off Sir Tyler Drive. Its top floor will be the home of a new business incubator called tekMountain. Photo by Ben Brown.
Castle Branch’s new office building off Sir Tyler Drive. Its top floor will be the home of a new business incubator called tekMountain. Photo by Ben Brown.

CastleBranch boasts itself as one of the nation’s top 10 background screening and compliance management companies, and its new, $12 million, 60,000-square-foot office off Sir Tyler Drive adds to its existing 36,000-square-footer still buzzing with 300 employees next door.

Brett Martin, CEO, said Friday he wants the three-story expansion to inspire its workforce, foster innovation and show the community that its public investment was worth it.

Before its groundbreaking last year, it won an incentive package from the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County worth up to $500,000, the purpose being to convince CastleBranch to stay and grow in Wilmington (versus a site the company was eyeing in California). It must follow through on its job creation benchmarks–420 new hires by 2017–to receive the public aid in full. It also qualified for $1.23 million in state incentives.

“I want to thank you for the incentives you offered us to keep our headquarters here in Wilmington,” Martin told Friday’s tour crowd. “I know there are a lot of critics to incentives, and there are some advocates to incentives, but if nothing else, today’s tour will be a win for the advocates. We’ve made a very strong investment, and since your incentives some 12 months ago, we’ve already added 80 new employees.”

The company, founded in 1997 in Chapel Hill before moving to Wilmington in 2002, conducts background screenings, drug testing, credentialing and related services.

Story: Castle Branch confirms local expansion, 420 new jobs

But it’s also focused on workplace culture, Martin said. During Friday’s tour he told of a number of new features that are atypical to the atmospheric perks offices usually offer.

Among them: the food truck bay, right outside the break room. CastleBranch purchased its own food truck and is staffing it with a dedicated chef who will serve employees breakfast and lunch with ingredients pulled fresh from an on-site vegetable garden.

Around the corner from the break room is a large, indoor AstroTurf field that will serve as the fitness room, managed by local company Forged Strength and Conditioning.

Martin said it’ll be the scene of classes for fitness, yoga, self-defense and other forms–even mixed martial arts.

“One of our executives is an MMA fighter,” he said.

What’s important, the CEO and founder said, is that while CastleBranch built the new facility for its employees, the greater community will have access.

“My son said to me last night, ‘Hey, can I do my karate class at Castle Branch?'” Yes, you can. … There’s a group of pilates instructors and they want to come here and do a class. Yes, they can.”

Martin said that spirit echoes throughout the building.

The next stop was the future space of an in-house brewery, with $50,000 in equipment. That, too, will be available to the community, Martin said.

“We’ll be working with our friends, our technology friends, to brew our own beer. And it’s not a little home-brew system we bought,” he said. “The system we have purchased is the same system that Sam Adams would use to brew a test batch.”

He emphasized the beer won’t be for sale or distribution.

But why all the bells?

CastleBranch executives have said for years they want to grow Wilmington’s scene of smart-minded and tech-savvy workers, not only attracting new talent to the area but retaining graduates of the local university and community college.

Currently, 58 percent of CastleBranch’s employees hail from that system, according to a company survey.

And so the idea involves a fun workplace with jobs that local graduates and outside minds alike will want.

Martin even quipped that he stripped the company’s dress code, amid worry that the appearance of its workforce might get a little too lax. Funny enough, he said, workers continued dressing to impress.

“You don’t need rules; you just need really good employees, and that’s what we have here,” said Martin.

tekMountain

Lighting up the local tech scene, and accelerating fresh ideas, is what the building’s top floor is all about.

Dubbed tekMountain and opening in late June, it’s a tech business incubator designed to draw innovative thinkers to Wilmington, where they can access or lease tekMountain’s office space and guidance at low cost (not entirely dissimilar to the locally focused UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship). If all goes as envisioned, they’ll have outgrown tekMountain within two years.

Story: Tech employers say jobs are here, but talent pool needs growth

Ideally, with those resources, companies can grow into the community as successful, hiring enterprises. It becomes all the more symbiotic if they create products CastleBranch can use or sell.

While CastleBranch employees have the first crack at tekMountain, Martin said he’s looking nationally, and potentially internationally, for startups to join.

Recent: tekMountain to help startups grow

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker has a little fun on a swirling novelty chair inside tekMountain. Photo by Ben Brown.
N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker has a little fun on a swirling novelty chair inside tekMountain. Photo by Ben Brown.

tekMountain was what Commerce Secretary Decker said she was waiting all morning to see.

“I have to tell you guys that as we are doing our research around the country, and really around the world, about what are the uniquenesses that North Carolina can offer the world in terms of job creation, one of those is technology, and technology talent,” said Decker.

She called it “exciting” that the state’s universities and community colleges are spinning out tech grads who can develop their skills further at local companies interested in helping them.

Mayor Saffo agreed.

“What we’ve been talking about as a community, going into the 21st century, these are the type of companies that we want to invest in from the public sector,” he said.

He also noted that after Castle Branch moved to Wilmington, it was in a much smaller space at the Cotton Exchange with just 30 employees.

In that start-small spirit, tekMountain’s available spaces come with garage-style doors.

“Which is cool,” said Martin, “because you can say, ‘Hey, I built my business in a garage.'”

Related stories:

To boost tech profile, new incubator space planned for Wilmington

City council finalizes incentive deal for Castle Branch

UNCW entrepreneurship center poised to make Wilmington an innovation beacon, director says

‘Optimism’ expressed for local innovation economy

Interview: F. Scott Moody, AuthenTec co-founder, says Wilmington has good support system for startups

Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship opens with five companies on board

Ben Brown is a news reporter at Port City Daily. Reach him at ben.b@hometownwilmington.com or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia

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