Technology companies flock to downtown McKinney, Cotton Mill

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Numerous emerging technology companies ranging from video game creation to application developers are calling Historic Downtown McKinney and the McKinney Town Center home.

The McKinney Town Center is defined by the city as the area around downtown McKinney including the Cotton Mill District, which is now an event venue and unique office space.

Emerging technology companies include businesses such as Playful Corp., VOMO and Boss Fight Entertainment, which specialize in creating video games, applications or technology advancements, McKinney City Manager Paul Grimes said.

The McKinney Town Center has attracted these businesses due to its unique nature, location along two major highways and affordable rent, according to business owners.

Playful began in McKinney with three employees. Fast-forward nearly five years, and the gaming company has 65 full-time employees and is building a 50,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Historic Downtown McKinney, said David Calkins, communications director at Playful.

Although Boss Fight will soon relocate to Allen, the gaming company has expanded twice in the Cotton Mill and added 50 employees to its McKinney location throughout the past five years, Boss Fight CEO David Rippy said.

Other growing technology startup businesses are also finding a place to thrive. VOMO, a volunteer management software platform and application, previously worked out of a trailer at Nature Nate’s in McKinney before moving to the Cotton Mill in late 2017. By next year VOMO plans to increase its revenue by $2 million, CEO Rob Peabody said.

“Those types of [technology]businesses tend to beget others,” Grimes said. “They want to be around people who have similar skills and interests.”

Cotton Mill and downtown

The Cotton Mill provides businesses with unique, creative spaces around like-minded companies and people, according to business owners. Refurbished wood floors, high ceilings and community spaces are just some of the Cotton Mill’s unique traits.

“Everybody can go out and build an urban development, but nobody can build a cotton mill,” said Terry Casey, owner of the Cotton Mill. “You can’t find what we have.”

Another reason business owners said they moved to the Cotton Mill was due to the low cost of rent, which Casey said is around $21.50 per square foot, plus utilities. Casey said rent for a new space in McKinney averages $34 per square foot.

In addition to cost, location is another factor pulling technology businesses to McKinney.

“McKinney is a great place because it’s pretty centrally located,” said Joel Peabody, co-founder and chief operating officer of VOMO. “You have a lot of people coming from Plano and Richardson, so it’s easy to recruit. We’re not asking people to move all the way across the city.”

Adventure Pilot, an aviation software company for private pilots, is another emerging technology company located at the Cotton Mill. Owner Walter Boyd said housing his office 1 mile from the airport is important for business.

“We do have a lot of customers that will fly in, so our proximity to the McKinney [National] Airport is really important,” he said.

Other business owners and their staff said they previously worked in Dallas but relocated to McKinney for convenience and to be closer to family.

“As I wanted to be closer to my family and my children’s activities, it only made sense that I just worked closer to where I lived,” said Robert Atkins, CEO of Balanced Media | Technology, a technology company that adapts user engagements with crowdsourcing to problem-solve.

Companies such as Playful said they choose to call downtown McKinney home due to the city’s sense of community.

“The products and the brands that we aspire to create are ones that we want the entire family to enjoy, and we feel like McKinney really fits well with the kind of company we are [and]the kind of products we want to make,” Calkins said.

City, EDC funding

The city of McKinney and the McKinney Economic Development Corp. have been a valuable resource for technology companies, according to business owners.

“[The city] rolled out the welcome mat when we moved from Allen to McKinney when we were small,” said Scott Winsett, chief operating officer of Boss Fight. “McKinney’s great for small tech startups. … I think the Cotton Mill proves to be a very creative spot for that.”

Grimes said the MEDC offers a variety of incentives for businesses, including rent assistance, grants, tax incentives, and job creation or retention incentives.

The MEDC also has an emerging technology program that offers high-tech startup companies incentives to facilitate their expansion and job growth.

The city of McKinney, in partnership with Collin College, is also working to create an innovation hub, said Jennifer Blalock, vice president of workforce and economic development with Collin College. While plans for the hub are in the early stages, the two entities are working to fill a need.

“Hopefully and ideally [the innovation hub]will expand even beyond McKinney into all of Collin County because we know to sustain the workforce and labor demands; we need to cultivate thinkers,” Blalock said. Economic benefit

The MEDC’s strategic plan mentions five target industries, including computer technology and services. The rationale to attract these businesses is due to the high wages paid to employees, which averages at least $95,000, according to MEDC documents.

These companies bring high-paying jobs to the city, and many said they plan to continue expanding and adding new jobs. Balanced Media | Technology, for example, plans to expand from 15 to 150 employees over the next two years, Atkins said.

“I think that McKinney has the opportunity to really be a leader and an innovator in this space,” Blalock said. “I see so many great and valuable opportunities coming about as a result of [the city’s]commitment to cultivating innovation.”

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Cassidy Ritter
Cassidy graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 with a degree in Journalism and a double minor in business and global studies. She has worked as a reporter and editor for publications in Kansas, Colorado and Australia. She was hired as senior reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's Plano edition in August 2016. Less than a year later, she took the role of editor for the McKinney edition.
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