Urban Development Center: Tech specialist brings jobs home
Keeping jobs in the United States is a lot harder than it sounds.
Trumbull resident Keith Klain is making progress in the right direction though, thanks to the launch of the Urban Development Center (UDC), a groundbreaking partnership between nationally recognized information technology workplace development organization Per Scholas and IT consulting firm Doran Jones, in the Port Morris neighborhood in the South Bronx.
The 15,000 square-foot UDC facility, which opened in June, has the capacity for 150 employees in the first phase of its build out, and will have room for another 300 employees in the its second phase.
“This isn’t what I thought I would be doing a few years ago but it really turned into a passion project of mine and it’s been a great success,” said Klain, who worked on the technology side for some of the world’s most recognized investment banking companies, including Barclays, UBS and Citi Group.
“I was still working at Barclays when I approached the board at Per Scholas with this idea I had about bringing entry level IT jobs back to the United States,” he added. “In November 2013, I quit Barclays and two months later, in February 2014, I was the co-CEO at Doran Jones, and we entered into a public partnership with Per Scholas soon thereafter.”
The full-service software engineering and testing center aims to be competitive with outsourced service providers in India and Eastern Europe.
Klain said 80% of UDC’s entry level analysts are Per Scholas students, with 25% of the profit share going from Doran Jones to Per Scholas.
A national non-profit that offers free, high-quality technology training, certification, job placement and career development to unemployed and low-income adults, Per Scholas is the perfect partner for Klain’s vision.
All Per Scholas students come from low-income American households, and 90% are from racial and ethnic minority groups.
“The South Bronx is one of the poorest districts in the United States so this project is just a bit different than what’s typically been going on here,” Klain explained.
Leap of faith
The facility isn’t the only part of Klain’s story that can be viewed as radically different.
His departure from the global banking world, after gaining 20 years of experience, was a move not many would make.
“It was a tremendous leap of faith,” he said. “I was really nervous when I finally went through with it because here I was working for this stable company and going to this start up company that I had to help navigate off the ground.”
Doran Jones was founded in 2010 and is based in New York. The company specializes in software engineering and testing consulting, as well as outsourcing.
Its clients include banking and financial service firms, some of whom Klain has worked for, across the United States.
“Banking is stressful,” Klain admitted. “But running your own start up is a different type of stressful.
“It’s like running a restaurant or having a kid,” he said. “You have to be there all the time; there are no breaks.”
Klain, who has been a Trumbull resident since 2006, is involved in every aspect of Doran Jones, which makes its successful growth even more rewarding for him years after jumping ship at Barclays.
“It’s been a lot of fun, but most importantly, it’s much more rewarding than the work I was doing before,” he said. “Here I’m doing everything from configuring our network to picking out our office furniture to making sales pitches to prospective clients.”
A Chicago native, Klain met his business partner Matt Doran in New York.
They shared a similar belief when it came to offshoring work, and the toll it takes on the US economy.
“What we were talking about is how jobs at these big banks and these telecommunication companies were typically going to offshore countries, and that there was no training program here to reduce that gap in technology skills,” Klain said.
“Ordinarily, you wouldn’t have looked here for the jobs that we were talking about bring back,” he added. “Part of this project is proving we can do the work here, and we can do it cost effectively.”
Klain said the main goal of the UDC is to carve jobs out of the offshore market.
“We’re creating jobs as opposed to training people to apply to existing jobs,” he said.
Per Scholas and Doran Jones’ partnership hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Klain said the government is very interested in the model, and that he has been to the White House three times to meet with President Barack Obama’s cabinet in the New TechHire Initiative that was launched back in May.
“The president recognizes that technology is an important aspect of our economy, and in order to improve we need to talk about and start developing training programs here — not abroad,” Klain said.
Besides the White House, the companies have also worked with New York City officials as well as the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Making Trumbull home
All the recent traveling has kept Klain away from his home in the Nichols area of town.
His wife, Samantha, has served as the co-president of the Trumbull Historical Society in the past and currently sits on the organization’s board, helping putting events like this year’s Civil War memorial celebration.
“I have a very understanding wife,” Klain said.
“We’ve moved all over the place,” he said. “But we’ve made Trumbull our home and we couldn’t be happier.”
Speaking about moving, Klain experienced first hand why outsourcing jobs was so ineffective for companies.
When he was working with Barclays, he was moved to Singapore to be closer to the company’s India market.
“We were all over the place,” he said. “I was doing 70% of my traveling to Asia with 50% of my time spent training people, and weren’t getting good enough results.”
That’s when the lightbulb clicked, and the ideas started flowing.
“I began thinking about changing things dramatically and proposed my initiative to Barclays about investing in near-shore training as oppossed to offshore,” he said. “The cost savings from reducing outsourcing were pretty clear — first, because India is not as cheap as it used to be as a resource for our companies; and, second, the operational costs of running an offshore team are incredibly high.”
Initially, there was interest in developing a facility in the Bronx, but the program’s funding got cut.
That’s when Per Scholas entered in his radar, and the jump from investment banking to start up company happened.
“The first 20 people they trained back in August 2013 all got jobs here,” he said. “That’s when I knew this could be successful.”
Keep building, Keith
And sure enough, it has been.
Klain said launching the Urban Development Center, especially in area like the South Bronx, took a lot of conviction.
“There was a lot of hard work put in to make this a reality, but there was also a calculated risk we were taking.”
The payoff has been a software engineering and testing center that still has plenty of room to grow.
“It’s an interesting industry because there are still so many unknowns that people have to test out,” Klain explained.
“But these are 150 entry level jobs that have a long career trajectory, and that are well paying, too,” he said. “Being able to bring them here to train is a game changer.
“Now we can begin the process of re-shoring jobs back here to America and blow up the myths that it’s more cost-effective to outsource them to other countires,” he added. “Once it bursts out, it’ll keep growing and will spread.”
To find out more about the UDC and the partnership between Doran Jones and Per Scholas, go to www.doranjones.com/urban-development-center