Greg Lovette shakes hands with Columbus Jobs Chairman Rick Edwards
A Columbus County native who has seen success in the information technology industry nationally and internationally and who has ventured back home to establish offices in Tabor City was the keynote speaker Thursday night at the Columbus Jobs Foundation’s annual membership kickoff social at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences here.
Greg Lovette, 52, is founder and CEO of RadixBay, Inc., which touts itself as a world-class provider of world-class business IT consulting and solutions services utilizing rural development centers to deliver more efficient and cost effective solutions for its clients. RadixBax has located in the Tabor City Industrial Park, and Lovette spoke to about 150 people about his company and his reasons for locating here after successfully running operations in India and Charlotte.
Charlotte. “I grew up between Tabor City and Fair Bluff,” Lovette said, “but for you locals, I can narrow that down by saying I grew up in the ‘Jam’.” He drew laughter when he said, “I married a girl from Green Sea and Texford Strickland told all the girls to stay out of Tabor City if they can but, if they must go, to stay out of the Jam. Well, despite that, I married a girl from Green Sea and we have two daughters.”
Lovette graduated from Tabor City High School in 1983, where he played football for the late Jack Holley, and subsequently graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a degree in computer science.
“At 18 years old, I was a dumb redneck from Tabor City and the Jam who had no idea what he was doing. When I got to college, I decided my major would be anything other than a tobacco field. In the early 80s, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that computer science was the way to go.”
It was a good decision for Lovette. He ended up at PriceWaterhouse in Charlotte after college and then started his own IT company, which he operated for 16 years before selling it. He then started another company, which he sold nine years later. “That was a great success story,” Lovette said Thursday, “but what happened was that as soon as we sold, all the work started being shipped to India.”
He continued, “It became obvious to me that those folks over there in India and those folks in Charlotte are not any smarter than the folks I went to high school with, so I wondered why we can’t expend our own energy right here in Columbus County to bring our folks here up to speed to do the same thing.”
He explained that, from a business standpoint, it is important to him to provide jobs that are at the high end of the local economic scale wherever he is located while, at the same time, not having to pay the kind of salaries that are required to recruit talent in Charlotte and Raleigh.
So although Lovette began RadixBay with offices in Charlotte and in India, he said his long-term plan was to identify the right attibutes in rural North Carolina to maximize his company’s success. That was when the seeds germinated that resulted in RadixBay’s Tabor City operation.
“I mentioned to my sister, who still lives here, that we were looking for a place in rural North Carolina, but I told her to keep it quiet. Well, naturally, she immediately told her boss and her boss told Rick Edwards (chairman of the Columbus Jobs Foundation), and the next day my phone rang. Rick called and told me, ‘Get down here. I want to sit across the table from you and have a conversation.’ Without people in this room like Rick and Gary (Lanier, Columbus County economic developer), this thing would not have happened.”
Lovette continued, “I came and met with Rick, and told him that the difference between India and Columbus County is not that the folks over there are any smarter, but they have the education and lots of opportunity. I explained that I would have to have help from local schools in training folks, that we’d have to have somewhere to work, that we’d have to have reliable available power and that we’d have to have broadband internet. Rick looked me in the eye and said, ‘We can make that happen.’”
That meeting with Edwards resulted in a deal to move into a building in the Tabor City Industrial Park and with the company’s first hire in May of 2016, someone who works in Charlotte but whose job is to support the people in the Tabor City operation. The company hired its first employee locally, a Whiteville resident, in June. They now have six employees in the Tabor City office and expect to add more people before the end of the summer.
“If you’ve got local folks who are passionate about what they’re doing, that’s when you can see things happening,” Lovette said. “There’s no specific government program being handed down from Washington that’s going to make anything happen. It’s private individuals who believe in their community deciding they’re going to do something. The good news is that since we have done this thing it is absolutely resonating with our customer base.” Timing was important too, particularly since the election of President Donald Trump, Lovette said. “My industry is scared to death that if they keep doing it in India and China, it’s going to be highly taxed and they’d better be able to find a way to do it here. So in that sense, our timing was perfect.”
Lovette praised the Columbus Jobs Foundation, the Tabor City Committee of 100, the Golden Leaf Foundation, Edwards and Lanier for helping make his company’s location here possible. “Gary just worked like crazy to make it happen,” he said. “People are passionate about it, and it is going to work.”