A host of North Little Rock city officials and local business leaders on Thursday (Aug. 16) touted the groundbreaking ceremony for the planned global headquarters of First Orion as the next step in the transformation of the city’s fast-growing downtown area.
Speaking at a dedication ceremony with North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith at his side, First Orion CEO Charles Morgan said he believes the tech firm’s location in the city’s downtown area will help to transform the region into a prominent technology hub.
“This is an exciting time for our little company, so here we go. Let’s do it,” Morgan said at Thursday’s groundbreaking with Smith, North Little Rock Chamber CEO John Owens, First Security Bank President John Rutledge, Taggart Architects CEO Bill Gray, and VCC Construction Chief Executive Sam Alley, all of whom joined Morgan and Smith at the photo-op event.
First Orion first announced in November 2017 that it planned to relocate its corporate headquarters across the Arkansas River from downtown Little Rock to a building site near the 500 block of Main Street in North Little Rock’s downtown Argenta business district.
Construction on the downtown offices are expected to begin in March 2019, where First Orion’s Privacy Star is expected to house its future workforce of more than 200 people with its closely related sister company, Inuvo Inc. The Arkansas-based company also has offices in Seattle, Dallas and London.
Under Morgan’s leadership, First Orion has grown its PrivacyStar operations, which provide phone call transparency apps and software that help shields consumers from unwanted calls and texts messages. Inuvo is a publicly-traded technology advertising firm where Morgan also serves as a board director and major shareholder.
First Orion and Inuvo first moved to Little Rock from Conway in 2015, where the two tech firms housed over 125 workers in Little Rock’s River Market district. First Orion officials said the two sister companies now employ more than 100 people in management, marketing administration and tech-related jobs with plans to double entering the new offices.
When First Orion announced the downtown move, company officials said they were firms actively recruiting new employees for positions in software development, analytics and customer management in positions that will pay up to $80,000 to $90,000 annually.
However, Morgan, the former Chairman and CEO of Acxiom Corp., has also stated publicly that the company has had some difficulty in recruiting high-skilled technology workers to Central Arkansas in today’s tight labor market, highlighted by the state’s 3.8% unemployment rate.
Once First Orion moves its headquarters across the river, several companies tied to Morgan and Acxiom Corp., will have changed their local offices several times. At the River Market location, First Orion was only blocks away from the former corporate headquarters of Acxiom, where Morgan retired from Acxiom as the company’s longtime chairman and CEO exactly nine years ago.
In February 2017, Acxiom sold its iconic downtown Little Rock office tower to Pine Bluff-based Simmons Bank and moved its headquarters from Little Rock back to Conway. Acxiom first announced plans to move to Little Rock in 1999, promising to add 700 jobs and create additional synergy in downtown Little Rock’s River Market.
In early July, Interpublic Group of Cos. agreed to a $2.3 billion deal to acquire Acxiom’s legacy business, which includes the company’s Marketing Solutions subsidiary that accounts for nearly three-fourths of the company’s revenue. Acxiom leaders announced in February 2018 that they were exploring strategic options for the division, which has traditionally provided direct mail and data services.