Opower, darling of Arlington tech sector, mulls move to D.C.

Alex Laskey is literally a poster boy for all that Arlington has to offer.

In a recent advertisement for the county’s economic development agency, the president and founder of Opower, a firm that develops energy-saving software for utility companies, is shown in a dark suit back-to-back with a performer from Bowen McCauley dance studio.

The idea is to depict the county as a place for both the start-up crowd and the performing arts. “Part innovation. Part inspiration. All Arlington,” reads the tagline.

Now county officials are working to ensure the “innovation” part of the message doesn’t depart Virginia for D.C.


Opower’s Alex Laskey in an ad for Arlington Economic Development. (Arlington Econ Development)

With about two years remaining on their lease in Courthouse, Opower executives are considering moving the company and its more than 200 headquarters employees to the D.C. neighborhood of NoMa, behind Union Station.

Founded in Arlington by Laskey and Dan Yates, Opower is one of the area’s headline tech companies at a time when neighborhoods across the region are trying to brand themselves as tech-savvy start-up hubs. When the company went public in April, shares surged 21 percent in a single day, and it reported $31 million in revenue for the second quarter.

In 2010 President Obama visited and called the company a “model of what we want to be seeing all across the country.”

Opower’s leaders have embraced their roles as leaders in the county, serving on task forces and panels aimed at advancing Arlington’s economy.

“They are not only a really good corporate business but a really good corporate citizen,” said Christina Winn, director of business investment for Arlington Economic Development.


OPower’s current offices, in Clarendon. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

But Opower is giving the District a hard look. Half of the company’s employees live there, according to Steven Yates, Opower manager of office operations, in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights and Shaw. He said another 40 percent live in Arlington but attributed that to the company being there.

“A surprising number of people live close enough to our office to walk. But my personal feeling is that people do that because it’s where the office is, not because it’s a cool neighborhood to live in,”  Yates said.

Yates said it’s critical that Opower choose a building and location that make it an attractive place to work for the highly skilled, often young workers for which it competes with other tech firms. Opower also has an office in San Francisco.

“We’re competing with Google and Facebook and those guys for talent, for engineering talent, for sales talent, and we think our building plays a big role in our ability to do that,” he said.


Talent attraction is critical to Opower’s growth. (Dayna Smith/ Washington Post).

To that end, Yates said the company’s leaders initially looked at a pool of 60 locations capable of providing 80,000 square feet or more, eventually touring 20 of them.  They decided that if they remained in Arlington they would stay in their current building, at 1515 N Courthouse Road, and if they moved to D.C it would likely be to NoMa. They’ve also discussed possible incentives with D.C. economic development officials.

“What we like about NoMa is it’s still up and coming but it’s farther along than the ballpark area,” he said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s edgy. It’s new.”

Winn said the county was working to accommodate Opower’s growth but was aware of the need on the part of Laskey and Yates, Opower chief executive, to get the best available talent. “He’s not just the chief executive officer, he’s really the chief recruiting officer,” she said.

With a slow office market, Opower will likely have a slew of options available to it in NoMa. Among them is the Uline Arena, the dome-shaped former concert venue where the Beatles once played, which Douglas Development is re-working into a mix of office and retail space.

Said Steven Yates of the building: “It’s kind of weird and different and we’re weird and different.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connnell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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Jonathan O'Connell · August 18, 2014