This for-profit, for-purpose platform is out to improve economic mobility in Charlotte

You’ve undoubtedly driven past a Home Depot and seen scores of day laborers waiting to be hired for a project. At the same time, 84 percent of contractors in North Carolina report difficulty finding skilled labor for their construction projects.

Noting this gap, Keith Clithero sought to create an app that matched contractors and subcontractors in need of help with skilled and unskilled labor in the area.

The result, Gig Connected, is an online service that connects construction employers with construction workers through an online platform and text messaging system. Through the app, workers and employers can search for opportunities or have the system send suggested employment or hiring matches. The platform is currently in its pilot phase and is expected to launch this summer.

But Clithero is building it with a bigger purpose than just better connecting labor supply with demand. Gig Connected is a for-profit, for-mission company out to improve the economic development and vitality of the region.

“If you’re born poor in Charlotte, you often are going to die poor in Charlotte,” Clithero said. “Our social mission is to help workers access jobs that will improve their upward economic mobility.”

And according to a recent study, Charlotte ranks last in terms of economic mobility within America’s largest cities.

Clithero’s vision for Gig Connected began four years ago after hearing about his sister’s woes finding day laborers for her company in Nashville building cabinetry, furniture and energy-efficient homes. After driving past a Home Depot — where over 50 day laborers were waiting for a project to come along — he was struck with an idea.

“There’s clearly a labor pool and a demand, but they are not finding each other and connecting,” Clithero said.

In the current hiring model, contractors typically go through staffing agencies, a day labor center, or comb the streets, searching for people who are looking for work. Staffing agencies typically charge up to $45 an hour for a job and take a cut of the hourly wage, which ultimately pays the employee $15 an hour.

Developing the app, Clithero wanted it to be more than simply a job marketplace, so he is incorporating a two-way review system to ensure workers are matched with companies that will treat them well, and that employers get quality work delivered on time.

“We are currently a middle man helping contractors connect with workers, but eventually we want to work our way up the ladder,” Clithero explained. This expansion includes a payment portal — expected late-summer 2018 — to ensure workers are paid the correct amount, on time. The portal also integrates workers’ compensation to keep workers safe on the job.

Clithero is in the process of developing partnerships with local educational organizations such as Central Piedmont Community College and Project P.I.E.C.E. They hope to offer educational opportunities through the app that would allow workers to increase their job prospects and pay range.

Clithero shared two challenges in his entrepreneurial journey: First was the challenge of getting his funding in order and hiring a local developer. It took several months of pitching to secure his grant funding — through the Annie E. Casey Foundation — and he didn’t know where to start in his search for technical talent, which came more word of mouth.

Second, Clithero explains, was overcoming his own shy, introverted nature.

“I’m relatively new to Charlotte. I have only been here for three years. I’m still learning who’s who and what’s what,” Clithero explained. “It’s been an interpersonal challenge for me as someone who’s naturally shy to put my neck out and face the rejections along the way.”

Learning about the Charlotte region has allowed him to identify some of the aspects he will need to be successful in other cities as Gig Connected expands. Charlotte’s concern for economic mobility and the current housing boom are two major factors in his ability to launch here. He says Nashville, Atlanta and Raleigh/Durham have a similar landscape that may facilitate the company’s growth.

Future goals aside, Gig Connected is still in its pilot phase. Clithero is deep in the weeds of developing relationships with organizations like the men’s shelter and Latin America Coalition to get the platform in the hands of workers.

Clithero still considers himself an aspiring entrepreneur as he is early in his entrepreneurial journey. And his advice to others pondering a similar path is to dig in — and ignore your fear.

“Keep a running list of ideas. Instead of reading the news or social media, spend some of your free time identifying pain points, exploring business models, and finding a community need,” he said. “Then don’t be afraid to start.”

This story was co-authored by David Stunja and Lexie Banks.

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