Chris J. Naff – Worcester Real Estate Podcast
September 2020

If it’s a jump ball between two commercial properties, increasingly it’s about which property is “smart” versus “dumb.” Learn how premium, high speed internet can improve tenant experiences, building safety, and operating efficiencies.

Here are some take-aways from the discussion:

Naff: Explain the concept of smart cities and where GigXero plays into the conversation.
Pacunas: A lot of cities are working to bring in new business, and they’re doing this through revitalization projects that are meant to bolster economic development, and that’s all tied into this idea of creating “smart cities.” But what we’re finding is that a lot of these “smart cities” are filled with what we jokingly refer to as “dumb buildings.”

So at GigXero, we’re sort of in the internet business, but really, we’re in the building smart buildings business, and that means taking buildings, looking at them holistically, and treating them as an asset to be furnished with the best internet, the best bandwidth, and the best connectivity. It’s a luxury internet experience.

Naff: What else makes a building “smart,” beyond the fairly obvious support for computers, WIFI, and that type of thing?
Pacunas: We deliver everything a building needs to operate. Door access solutions, security cameras, and intercom. And we create this total solution under one umbrella of ownership that makes it an easier experience for everyone that works or lives in these buildings – whether it’s multi-family residences of 12 or more units, or a large corporate office building.

Naff: GigXero started in Amherst, but you now have quite a bit of the market share in Boston and Newark, New Jersey. Can you talk about your experience growing in those two cities?
Pacunas: As far as Boston goes, when we started in Amherst, we were working with a lot of off-campus university housing and apartments, so we were able to adapt those models on a much larger scale in Boston. Once we had those footholds, there was more room to grow and develop.

In Newark, we were able to partner with some people that we were doing work with, but part of the reason business really exploded there was because of the energy around how much the city wants to transform. It reminds me on some levels of Worcester.

Naff: Let’s talk more about that. Is Worcester a good candidate to become a “smart city?”
Pacunas: Worcester is motivated to grow, and is really well-positioned with all the synergies fo the public and private entities. It has its own great universities and people coming out of them that are very talented, and the city really has the desire to grow from an economic perspective. The problem is that many of the people who could help with that growth immediately leave the city after graduation.

So, one of the spokes in that wheel of progress really is showing these entrepreneurs and scholars that the places they’re going to live and work – speaking about Worcester in this case – are modern in terms of bandwidth, connectivity, and 21st century technologies on every level. And we really think that this modern internet approach is the key to getting them to stay.

The other factor is Worcester’s location as a bedroom city to Boston. This gets us wondering, can we persuade Boston companies to create satellite offices in Worcester? A trend that we are starting to see a lot more of is businesses spreading out their office environments and decentralizing away from a single headquarter. That’s a really good opportunity for Worcester given its proximity to Boston and the favorable cost of living by comparison.

Naff: Given that we are in New England, are you finding most of your work in brand new construction, or is there opportunity for older buildings to be fit out for your technology?
Pacunas: Commercial tends to be innovating more. For us (GigXero), it’s 60% new buildings and 40% existing buildings. There tends to be the more rapid installations with new buildings because the infrastructure is ready to be cabled, and unlike with older residential buildings, we only service something like 6 floors, not 200 separate units.

That being said, a building that is 20 years old or less can be fitted for our solution, but it requires repurposing a lot of the existing infrastructure and that’s less of our line of business.

Naff: Let’s talk about the current state of the world. We’re currently living through a global pandemic. Has your business been impacted? Where do you go next?
Pacunas: There is definitely more of a priority in residential bandwidth and connectivity. Before, people were mostly streaming video on TV and YouTube, which are a little more forgiving because you can have a poor internet connection and they will still work.

Now, when you’re on a live and important video call with coworkers and colleagues, you’ll notice when you have a bad internet connection very quickly because the audio will get choppy or the video will lag. So now, more than ever, people need their bandwidth and connectivity to be reliable.

For us, what that’s looked l ike is a 50% uptick in traffic residentially across our networks and about a 75% drop in bandwidth in commercial real estate.

So, more people are certainly working and learning at home, but it doesn’t take away from the need (for smart technology) that people are going to have at commercial real estate offices, especially if and when we begin transitioning back to the collocated workforce.

Naff: You’re a new player in this (smart building technology) game. How have you honed in on your niche marketplace?
Pacunas: There are a lot of big players who have been doing things a certain way for a long time, but I’ll tell you what: once we get a customer, they never build a building without us. As much as they’re set on the old ways, they’re just as set on things that they see really work.

And yes, the technology is faster, and the connection is better, and the system is smart, but it also has a real asset value. If two people are looking at two different buildings and one offers gigabit, 1000-megabit per-second internet from GigXero, that’s really sexy. Not to mention, keycards to get into lobbies, parking lots, and rooms, intercom systems, the best security and surveillance setups … So, it speaks for itself pretty quickly; once somebody sees it, they want it, and they get it.

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Should you have any questions about this podcast – or any commercial real estate matter – please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or call me at 508-841-6412.