Entrepreneur To Start Business Accelerator In Former GUARD Insurance Buildings

April 2, 2019 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — After 18 months in the works, local entrepreneur Kris Jones acquired properties formerly owned by GUARD Insurance at 16 and 24 S. River St. in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

He was awarded a $1 million state grant to help him buy and renovate the two downtown buildings. He declined to say the total purchase price and a deed was not yet filed. Luzerne County has assessed 16 S. River St. at $1.5 million and 24 S. River St. at $499,500.

Plans for the acquisition include setting up a business accelerator and the new headquarters for Jones’ companies, LSEO.com, KBJ Capital and Special Guest App, an entertainment booking service.

The accelerator will work with businesses that have achieved product-market fit and are in the growth phase, Jones said. A ribbon cutting and unveiling is planned for May, he said.

“Once unveiled later in May, this accelerator will be working with businesses that already have traction and are in growth phase,” Jones said.

He said the businesses will have access to extensive acceleration support and services, including finance, accounting, legal, growth marketing, mobile and web development and business consulting to help them accelerate their businesses resulting in job creation and revenue growth.

Jones founded Pepperjam as a gourmet food business in 1999 and it later became a top Internet marketing agency. Ten years later, Pepperjam was sold to eBay.

He said Pepperjam led to the launch of multiple successful technology businesses that have helped “jumpstart and inspire the entrepreneurial culture of Northeastern Pennsylvania.”

“This acquisition represents one of the most exciting days of my entrepreneurial journey,” Jones said. “I remain committed to building and supporting innovative companies that provide high-paying jobs and positively impact our region.”

Wilkes-Barre Council members Tony Brooks and Beth Gilbert praised the news Jones posted on Facebook about the acquisition.

Gilbert posted she is “incredibly proud to work for such business-minded, future-driven people with such a strong work ethic that is hard to come by.”

GUARD, which was founded by Kingston residents Judd and Susan Shoval in 1983 and formerly headquartered at South River and Market streets, was acquired by a unit of billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway in October 2012.

The insurance company purchased the 90,378-square-foot Wilkes-Barre Center Building on Public Square and adjoining street-level storefronts from Wilkes-Barre Square Associates for more than $5 million for its new headquarters to accommodate the company’s growth.

Sy Foguel, GUARD chief executive officer, had previously said that $885,000 in job creation tax credits offered by the state and a $1 million local share assessment grant secured by the City of Wilkes-Barre helped with the costs of relocating a major corporate facility in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

With the expansion of the insurance company into the building on Public Square and existing buildings on Market Street, a spokesperson for Berkshire Hathaway GUARD said in a statement, “We are happy that the use of the River Street buildings will continue in the tradition of local economic development.”

Gov. Tom Wolf previously announced that Jones would receive the $1 million state grant through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program program.

Projects approved for this funding must follow requirements including providing matching funds and minimum project costs, said Michael Gerber, spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The state program reimburses recipients based on the costs of the project laid out in an application, he said. The Office of the Budget monitors projects throughout the funding and construction phases and the approval or reimbursements depends on financial and program compliance, he said.

According to a news release from Wolf, the funding is used to support “critical expansion projects, some of which will provide opportunities for additional economic development.”

“My administration sees the long-term benefits of supporting projects that provide for expansion, economic development and jobs, and that align with the goals of the many business leaders and entrepreneurs in NEPA,” Wolf said in a statement.

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