Josh Cole had job offers in Minneapolis and New York City.
But the Arizona native, who spent time in Texas and Tennessee, chose Harrisburg to continue his digital design career.
"When I moved to Nashville, it didn't have the technology, art industry or restaurants and culture it has now," said Cole, design director at Harrisburg-based andCulture Inc., an interactive marketing and communication studio that focuses on user experience design. "I see Harrisburg having that same potential."
He doesn't appear to be alone.
Since completing its move in 2009 to a much larger space at 200 Locust St., andCulture has grown to about 40 people from 22, said David Hickethier, the firm's founder and CEO.
Hickethier credits the growing diversity among local companies in this industry, as well as the firm's agnostic approach to the type of work it pursues. The common theme at andCulture is working with upstarts and solving problems through unique experiences.
"It's about a series of moments you can sequence and have an impact in a memorable way," he said.
That might include mobile design and development work for a client, redesigning a website or creating new interior spaces for a client.
The makers of Ouya, a California-based gaming console that uses the Android operating system, hired andCulture to create an experience at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, that would help tell the brand's story and attract new developers.
It worked with Adaptive Path, a recognized leader in the user experience design industry, to digest Adaptive Path's brand and redesign its website to better reflect what it does to a broader audience.
And it is working with a health system to install an interactive giving wall that runs 24/7.
"At the core, it's all about invention," Hickethier said, from creating hardware and software to crafting and telling stories.
The company has attracted designers and writers as well as individuals with anthropology and engineering backgrounds. The goal is cobbling together a diverse group with a variety of perspectives, he said.
That mix of smart and talented people was part of the appeal for Cole. Central Pennsylvania's proximity to other major metropolitan areas was another draw, he said.
"At first, I was really hesitant," Cole said of making the move. "I think after talking to people and seeing the talent out here, there is a lot of good talent here and close by."
It's going to take outreach by creative professionals here to retain and attract others, he said.
The company would not disclose its revenue, but did say it has doubled over the last two years. And while it has a growing portfolio of clients on the West Coast and New York, the bulk of its work is still in the Mid-Atlantic.
"It's exciting to watch Central PA advance in our space," Hickethier said, citing projects and companies such as the United Fiber & Data network backed by members of the rock band Live, Web design and marketing firm Red Privet LLC and Pavone Marketing Group Inc., a specialist in food and beverage trends.
The midstate's biggest challenge remains attracting talent, he said. However, he's hoping recent migrations, including Cole's, is a sign this area is on the right track.
Internal projects, office potential
In the andCulture laboratory, the firm is working on two beta projects it hopes to soon roll out to the marketplace.
One is being called Adeptive. It is a business intelligence product that allows enterprises to take data repositories and boil them down into visual trend reports, which can help with real-time decision-making, Hickethier said.
Two grocery retailers are beta-testing the product. AndCulture is hoping to secure at least five more beta users within the next six months.
The other unnamed product will focus on travel patterns, Hickethier said.
Both present opportunities for future growth, he said. The firm also is exploring its options regarding additional office locations.
"San Francisco is a place we love to go," he said. "Maybe we'll have an office there someday."
Gaining new perspectives every day is important to growth, Hickethier added: "Empathy is a really big key. It drives great experience design."
David Hickethier grew up in the Hershey area and attended Messiah College. He founded andCulture in 1997 while at Messiah. The company was incorporated in 1999 when he was 21.
Today, the Harrisburg-based firm has 40 people and operates out of a 7,500-square-foot studio on Locust Street.