DeKALB – The original brick in the old Moxie building is being sandblasted. Saws hum. Sawdust flies, as the new home of Sundog IT takes its shape at 230 E. Lincoln Highway.
Four weeks until the new space is expected to open. Anytime this all gets overwhelming, anytime owner Cohen Barnes feels like he’s getting too old for this, there’s an intern for that.
The business-to-business IT company recently added a 15th position to its ranks – a member of the Huskies Get Hired program.
“Young people are just refreshing,” Barnes said. “To them, anything’s possible. The older you get, you get a little more cynical. It’s great to be around people who only see positive ideas and say, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”
It’s been 25 years since Sundog IT was born in an apartment basement – it was named TBC back then and first became Sundog about four years ago – and started selling dial-up Internet to residents for 20 bucks a month. Barnes’ original company spawned DeKalb Fiber Optic, which laid about 140 miles of fiber optic cable in the community. Then, Barnes got out of the Internet game and keyed on outsourcing IT services to the business community.
If you’ve ever seen a newly built IT office, maybe watched HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” you know the scene has changed. Employees are given a lot of freedom to foster creativity and buoy morale. There are “play rooms,” with comfy furniture.
Sundog IT’s new two-story space will have one of those, and many amenities of the modern IT workspace.
That said, it also will maintain a firm grip on DeKalb’s past. That’s important to Barnes, whose family moved to DeKalb when he was 10. He went through DeKalb public schools, then Kishwaukee College and Northern Illinois University.
“It’s really a culture-related move,” Barnes said. “To put my money where my mouth is, to move to downtown means everything.”
The space’s most recent resident was the gift shop, Moxie, but it once housed Malone’s Department Store, so Barnes plans to put up an old Malone’s sign, as a nod to the past.
“Old townies like me will love to see that,” he said.
The brick and floors will remain original, but the space will otherwise be chock full of modern affects, such as glass and low-partition cubicles. Windows have been installed, as well as skylights.
That play area? It will be part of perhaps the space’s most alluring feature: the front section of the second floor. Barnes wanted a balcony, but was advised it would be expensive. And balconies leak, he was told.
So that area will be walled off, and employees will be able to open the windows and enjoy the next best thing to a balcony.
“Then on a nice day, with the breeze, we’ll have our balcony, basically,” he said.
Sundog’s move is one piece of a downtown revitalization, spearheaded by construction of a four-story $7.5 million apartment and commercial-use building known as the Cornerstone project at Lincoln Highway and First Street.
Barnes said his company’s new space, about 4,200 square feet and about 500 square feet larger than the current space at 444 E. Hillcrest Drive, will provide room for growth, in terms of staff size.
“One of the reasons I bought the building is to grow the company,” “As long as we meet our plan, we’re going to need the whole building eventually.”
Services offered, though, don’t hinge on infrastructure. They hinge on hires.
“This building won’t create an opportunity for growth of services, but we’re always changing,” Barnes said. “We’re always evolving. That’s our industry.”