Paul Melde, vice president of technology for Dice Holdings Inc., next to some of his company’s computer servers. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Paul Melde, vice president of technology for Dice Holdings Inc., next to some of his company’s computer servers. Photo by Duane Tinkey

New Year’s resolutions: Lose weight. Quit smoking. Find a new job.

OK, Dice Holdings Inc. can’t help with two of these popular resolutions. However, the company is betting that a recovering economy will enable it to connect more employers with a variety of professionals this year.

With that growth, Dice plans to move into a new 35,000-square-foot operations center in Urbandale by November. Two years ago, Dice outgrew its existing space on Northwest Urbandale Drive and began leasing additional space at Aurora Business Park.

“Our desire, more than anything, was just to get everyone back under one roof,” said Tom Silver, the company’s senior vice president of marketing.

Initial site work is under way, and steel is expected to begin going up next month for the building, which Dice plans to lease from R&R Realty Group. The 34,770-square-foot single-tenant structure will be expandable by an additional 10,000 square feet, and the company plans to invest $1.75 million in new computer equipment for the facility, according to the Iowa Department of Economic Development board’s meeting minutes.



Growing demand

Specializing in operating websites for job-seeking professionals, Dice now has seven career sites in its portfolio, among them Dice.com for technology professionals, eFinancialCareers.com for accounting and finance professionals and AllHealthcareJobs.com for health-care workers. The company has since expanded into job-search websites for the energy industry as well as sites specializing in job fairs and positions requiring security clearances.

After nearly doubling its local work force to 190 between 2005 and 2008, Dice eliminated more than 40 of those positions during the recession. The pendulum began swinging the other way last year, however, as the company added 22 jobs, ending 2010 with 168 employees. Dice also employs another 65 people at its offices in New York City, Houston, Cincinnati and other U.S. locations, as well as about 95 employees in Asia and Europe.

Dice expects to hire additional people this year in a variety of sales, technology, marketing and human resources positions, Silver said, both at its Urbandale hub and at its satellite locations.

“It’s not a huge number, but we’ll hire as needed to support continued growth in business,” Silver said. “Nothing crazy, but we expect to have a need for additional employees across a variety of functional areas.”

In addition to getting a boost from a slowly recovering economy, seasonal shifts in demand should also help, he said. Employer demand typically picks up in the first quarter of the year, as projects that have been put on hold receive new funding and companies initiate projects that require hiring additional talent, Silver said.

“We certainly expect demand for technology (jobs) to continue to grow,” he said. “There is a growing percentage of positions that are now full time, which is an indication of employer confidence. I would expect to see more growth in the large corporate sector, versus small to medium businesses. Large corporate’s (hiring) lagged in 2010; I would expect to see that trend reverse.”

In November, the Iowa Department of Economic Development board of directors awarded Dice a $225,000 forgivable loan from the Grow Iowa Values Fund for the new Urbandale center. The company has pledged to create 16 new jobs in Iowa as a result of the project and retain 154.



Reaching out

Dice, which maintains its corporate office in New York City, has based its primary operations center in Urbandale since 1994. In 2003, following the dot-com bust, the company emerged from bankruptcy and two years later was acquired by private equity firms General Atlantic LLC and Quadrangle LLC. In 2007, Dice common stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and since then, the company has continued to add websites through acquisitions.

In 2009, Dice acquired AllHealthcareJobs.com, broadening its base of jobs-board websites to the health-care sector. Last year, it purchased two more online career search companies, WorldWideWorker.com and Rigzone.com, both of which specialize in energy industry jobs.

The company’s sales are rebounding. Third-quarter revenues climbed past $34 million, a 29 percent increase from the third quarter of 2009, but still below the $40 million in sales it recorded in the first quarter of 2008.

“We’re below the peak, no doubt about that,” Silver said. “But we’re expanding into new lines of business, and with these new industries and with the ongoing gradual recovery, we feel pretty good about the future.”

Though the costs of owning the building would probably be comparable to leasing, leasing makes more sense for a technology company such as Dice, said Mike Durney, Dice’s chief financial officer.

“If you think about what we’re good at or not good at, we’d rather use our capital to invest in our websites rather than real estate,” he said. “Around the world, we own none of our properties.”

Durney said Dice considered several locations for the new operations center, including downtown Des Moines. However, an employee survey indicated that most of the employees preferred to stay in Urbandale to avoid downtown commuting and parking issues, he said.



Virtualization

Dice’s move could be good news for some other Greater Des Moines technology companies, as it plans to outsource its data center operations.

“We’ve basically in-sourced everything for the 10 years that we’ve been out here in Urbandale,” said Paul Melde, the company’s vice president of technology. “We’re changing that up a little bit in moving to the new building. We’ve grown, and we’re going to focus on doing the things that we’re really good at, and reach out to the local community for operating the primary data centers.”

Dice might contract for as much 20 terabytes (20,000 gigabytes) of data storage to run its websites and internal business applications, enough to keep hundreds of servers busy, he said.

“We have invited several local businesses to talk to us about what they would propose,” Melde said, adding that details of potential agreements are still being worked out. “So we can’t say which companies will be involved. We may end up doing some of it ourselves.”

Those companies will provide the space, while Dice will provide the equipment and possibly some shared technical support, Melde said.

“A lot of those servers will be virtual servers,” he said. “We have been heavily involved in virtualization technology the past several years.” The virtualization software will enable Dice to create copies of systems that can be operated with just a fraction of the hardware that would otherwise be needed, “trading off a little bit of performance for flexibility,” he said.

“The driver there for us has really been in terms of efficiency, both in terms of space and cost,” Melde said. Virtualization “also makes it more cost effective to run as many product websites as we do.”