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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Small company aims to make big splash downtown

August 22. 2015 8:26PM
Neil Sikder, right, president & CEO at Maia Strategy Group, talks with Kate Luczko, president and CEO of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, during the Maia open house Wednesday afternoon in Manchester. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

THE MAIA Strategy Group's new office is home to just a half-dozen workers right now. But the arrival of the market research firm from New York is the kind of story ripe for a PR campaign touting the Queen City as a place to relocate your business.

CEO and company founder Neil Sikder says the company chose Manchester after considering a few other New England locales, citing reasons economic development types might list in a brochure.

They include a lower cost of doing business — office space is a wee bit cheaper here than in the Big Apple — a convenient airport; strong universities and colleges; and a downtown environment with arts, culture, restaurants and bars attractive to young professionals.

And to show they are serious about recruiting those young professionals, Maia just hired a recent graduate from St. Anselm College and one from the University of New Hampshire, whom Sikder mentioned during his remarks to a small group gathered for an open house Wednesday to celebrate the new 1001 Elm St. space.

“We're committed to getting local talent, and I think between those two schools and Dartmouth, we're going to continue to hire locally,” Sikder said during an interview as guests arrived. The company employs 10 remote workers in addition to the six who will be based in Manchester, where he aims to grow the staff to 15.

Maia's clients include Fortune 500 companies in such sectors as consumer packaged goods, information technology, equipment companies, industrial distribution and health care.

“We study our clients' markets, and based on what we learn we provide them strategic advice,” Sikder said.

About a year ago, Sikder and his executive team decided the company needed more formal office space. While Maia maintains a small office in New York, most of its employees are experienced professionals who work from home. With the company beginning to hire more entry-level employees to fuel growth, it needed to provide space for them, Sikder said.

“Even in this information-technology age, hiring people working remotely out of their homes at some point gets a little bit unwieldy to manage as a business,” Sikder said. “It's hard to keep a unified team and build any significant office culture in that environment ... When you hire someone at entry-level, they need to be around people who are experienced.”

The company began researching communities in New England, since many of their workers were already based here, he said.

“One of the rising stars in our company, Chris LeGrand, offered to be at an office everyday to be a leadership presence,” he said. “We settled in on Manchester so we have folks from Burlington, Vt., coming in a couple of times a week, people from Portland, Maine, coming in, and Chris is going to be the office leader.”

LeGrand, who commutes to Manchester from Enfield, said Burlington and Portland were also on the short list for the new office. He lived in Lebanon for a couple of years and was familiar with New Hampshire.

“One of the big things we liked about Manchester, having been here a little bit and knowing the Vermont culture, is that it seems a lot more business friendly and more up and coming for the type of professionals that we're looking for,” said LeGrand, 33.

Sikder, who founded Maia Strategy Group in 2003, runs the company with partner and vice president Moira Koch, who was among the employees in town Wednesday for the gathering. While neither has plans to move here, traveling to Manchester is hardly a chore, said Sikder, who has a family with three young children in Hoboken, N.J.

“I drive 20 minutes to Newark, and I'm in Manchester an hour later. And it's a 10-minute cab ride to the office,” said Sikder, 37. “It's very feasible. I've done it a whole bunch of times already. I've come in the morning and been home for a late dinner. That airport is a big factor on why we selected Manchester.”

The presence of Dyn and the young professional workplace it promotes at its Millyard campus was also a draw, said Sikder, who met with company executives Paul Mailhot and Gray Chyonoweth (now at SilverTech) and Kate Luczko of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, the nonprofit working to attract and retain young workers.

Luczko noted that the Manchester Young Professionals Network has 4,000 members in the area, a considerable pool for companies looking to recruit. “Especially if you're able to form a relationship with the schools, it's a great place to hire,” she said.

While Dyn has grown to about 400 workers, it's the kind of company Maia aspires to be, with a reputation for a fun work environment that attracts young professionals, Sikder said.

“It validated that we were making a good choice in Manchester,” Sikder said.

The CEO worked with commercial broker Dan Scanlon of Colliers International, who found space for Maia in the Atrium Building, a three-story office complex owned by the John Flatley Co.

Sikder also had high praise for Michael Bergeron, senior business development manager for the state Division of Economic Development. Bergeron assisted the company in its year-long search for office space and introduced Sikder to local economic development and chamber leaders.

“I like the fact that they focused on Manchester and New Hampshire because they want to hire young, talented people right out of college, and they were convinced that this was the city and the state to do that,” Bergeron said.

Mike Cote is business editor. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or

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