Lowe’s picks South End for tech hub, 2,000 high-paying jobs and a new 23-story tower

In a major nod to Charlotte’s growing technology workforce, Lowe’s announced Thursday it has selected the city for a 2,000-employee global tech hub, which will be housed in a new 23-story tower to go in South End.

The home improvement retailer said it is spending $153 million on the project.

Lowe’s project is made possible through a state incentives grant of $54 million, to paid over 12 years as long as Lowe’s meets its job creation and investment targets, according to the state. Lowe’s plans to create 1,600 jobs and bring about another 400 over from its headquarters office.

“Locating this new facility in North Carolina’s largest metropolitan area is going to enable us to attract tech talent that this state is developing,” Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison said Thursday, during a press conference at Byron’s South End.

“We also hope as a company to become a beacon to attract other world-class companies seeking technology talent to Charlotte,” he said. “We think we can absolutely do that.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and other state and local officials joined Lowe’s leaders for the announcement. “Today the next chapter begins for a homegrown company,” Cooper said.

The 375,000-square-foot office is a joint venture between Childress Klein and Ram Realty Advisors. The developers plan to break ground in August, and the goal is to open the facility in late 2021, according to Lowe’s.

This will be the tallest building outside of uptown, and it will dwarf all other buildings around it.

“This is a major tower. It’s 23 stories in the air. That’s not what South End is today,” Paul Devine, who oversees Childress Klein’s office division in the Carolinas, said after the Lowe’s announcement.

Ram Realty CEO Casey Cummings said the building will have about 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on the building’s ground floor “to continue that sort or urban fabric that’s been established on the streets.”

The new building will be called the Design Center Tower, and it will be adjacent to the Lynx Blue Line light rail and Rail Trail. The property is currently a surface parking lot on Worthington Avenue across from the Design Center, where Byron’s is, along with other retailers like Jeni’s Ice Creams.

Lowe’s will be hiring for a number of roles, including software and infrastructure engineers, data scientists, analysts, architects, user experience and user interface professionals, and technologists with artificial intelligence and machine learning engineering experience, the company said.

Salaries will vary, but Lowe’s said the average annual pay for the new positions will be more than $117,000.

Rendering of the tower Lowe’s is building for its 2,000-employee tech hub in South End Courtesy of Lowe's

‘Just perfect’

Lowe’s had also considered Dallas for the new tech hub, as the Observer reported in May.

Ultimately, a number of factors drew Lowe’s to Charlotte, including its proximity to the retailer’s headquarters in nearby Mooresville.

In choosing the new location, Ellison said the company was attracted to the prospect of recruiting from the growing millennial population in Charlotte, especially in South End.

That generation is interested in living in dense areas close to public transit like the light rail, Ellison told the Observer in an interview this week. The ability to walk, bike or scooter to work is a plus, too, he added.

“South End for us is just perfect. It gives us all of those things, and we’re getting in at the perfect time,” Ellison said. “We’re excited to be first major corporation to plant a flag in South End, and we hope other companies come in to facilitate the tech talent moving forward.”

Interim office

Lowe’s plans to fill the first 400 positions in the next year, and will begin hiring for the jobs immediately, the company said.

While the company is building the new facility, it will temporarily house the tech center at the Charlotte Plaza in uptown. That’s the building on College Street that houses Grant Thornton. Lowe’s said it will start moving employees into that space as soon as next month.

Rendering of the interior of the new Lowe’s technology hub in South End Courtesy of Lowe's

Ellison took over as CEO almost exactly one year ago. In recent months, Ellison has said Lowe’s is in the early stages of a major overhaul, which includes revamping stores, improving product inventory, shutting down under-performing business units and improving IT.

“One of the first observations I made when I joined the company is that we really needed to accelerate our investment in tech,” Ellison said. “There are two characteristics of great retailers: A clear and consistent view of who customer is ... a great tech platform.”

Lowe’s first announced plans for the 2,000 tech hires at its annual analyst and investor conference in December. At the time, Ellison said that Lowe’s has fallen behind when it comes to tech innovation.

The new facility in South End will modernize Lowe’s technology system, driving the company’s growth forward, Lowe’s said.

In terms of tech job creation, Charlotte is on track to surpass Raleigh. Tech jobs in the area surged by 34% over the last five years — faster than in rival cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham, according to a study by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Rendering of the patio of the new Lowe’s technology hub in South End Courtesy of Lowe's

Lowe’s is the latest of several corporations to pick South End for its new offices.

Krispy Kreme quietly opened its new corporate offices in a renovated former warehouse on Hawkins Street, for instance. Financial services firm Dimensional Fund Advisors recently opened its newly constructed East Coast headquarters office in the former Common Market spot.

Charlotte fintech company LendingTree announced in April that it’s moving its headquarters from Ballantyne to a new tower being built on South Tryon Street at Carson Boulevard.

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As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.