Decatur-based 3-GIS, one of the city's fastest-growing businesses, is expanding again. President Tom Counts said last week the locally grown company, which provides Web-based fiber network design and management software, will expand into the former Food Fite Restaurant space in its current building at 350 Market St. N.E. The company also will expand to occupy an unused portion of The Decatur Daily building.
The expansion means 3-GIS, which once occupied only one suite in its building on Market Street, soon will occupy all five of the building's suites. Food Fite shuttered permanently in late July. Counts said he expects to move 3-GIS workers into The Daily space and begin construction to convert the former Food Fite space next month. The expansion is accompanied by an aggressive hiring push. Counts estimated the company had about 70 employees, up from about 50 in February. The company is still hiring, and Counts said he wasn't sure where it would stop as he continues to seek geo-spatial analysts, software developers and project managers. "A month ago, I was hiring 16 people. I hired six, and now I'm still trying to hire 16 people," he said. "You'd think it would be down to 10, but I'm still hiring 16 because demand has really taken off." The company started with six people in 2006, including Counts, Chief Technical Officer Tommy Siniard, and Chief Operating Officer Jerry Golden, all part-owners in the business. Its first office was on Oak Street, but it outgrew that and moved in 2007 to its current Market Street headquarters. The expansion also comes as 3-GIS adds new services to its lineup. In addition to selling software, it recently began offering to use its software to design networks for others, a service Counts said some clients prefer. "We've been growing by about 25 to 30 percent a year since we started this business. This year, we're going to grow over 100 percent," Counts said of the company's sales and revenue. News of the expansion was met with accolades from members of the local business community. "We've talked for a long time about diversifying our economy and bringing these high-tech jobs to town," said Ellen Didier, president of Red Sage Communications. "It's exciting to have two high-tech companies downtown with 200 jobs combined between them." Didier's comment referenced 3-GIS and Magnolia River, both of which she said have done business with her company. Magnolia River recently merged its Hartselle and Huntsville offices on Bank Street after determining it was the most central location for its 135 employees. The new tech jobs help diversify the city's job market. According to a 2013 analysis by the Alabama Department of Labor, nearly 20 percent of jobs in the city were in manufacturing, 15 percent in health care and social services and 12.5 percent in retail.
According to Crystal Brown, vice president of business and investor development for the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, high-tech, high-paying jobs such as those brought by 3-GIS could help bolster the city's median income. She mentioned both companies when asked how Decatur could increase its median income, which lags behind Huntsville, Madison and Athens. When the the personal finance website NerdWallet ranked Decatur last year as the eighth-best place in the country for engineers to live, it noted a median engineer salary of $96,229, reasonable rental rates and access to opportunities in No. 1-ranked Huntsville. It also noted engineers only make up 2 percent of the local workforce. With 150 high-paying jobs coming with RUAG Aerospace, it remains unclear how many will reside in Decatur. While 41 percent of workers who live in Decatur work in Decatur, 73 percent who work in the city live elsewhere, according to the labor department's 2013 analysis. Counts, a Decatur native, said 3-GIS landed in Decatur because it's his hometown. "Decatur needs this kind of company. Decatur needs these kinds of jobs," he said, noting that he recruits talent from all over the world. Counts could not estimate an average salary for the new jobs, saying compensation varies depending on the position.