Business

Idaho native who set $70K minimum pay in Seattle opens Boise office, pledges raises

Dan Price stunned the business world when he announced four years ago that he would begin paying his 120 employees at Gravity Payments a minimum salary of of $70,000 a year.

Employees gasped when they heard the news at Gravity’s Seattle headquarters. Price, who grew up between Melba and Marsing in rural Canyon County, slashed his $1.1 million salary to $70,000.

On Monday, Price expected a similar reaction when he surprised workers of a small Idaho company that he bought nearly three years ago, ChargeItPro. At an announcement at Gravity Payments’ new Boise office at 110 N. 27th St., where ChargeItPro employees are moving, he offered the 40 workers the same minimum salary, phased in over four years.

“I expect that many people will be very happy about it,” Price said Thursday in a telephone interview with the Statesman from his office in Seattle. “And will sense that it’s fair and it makes sense and that’s the way it should be.”

On Monday, Price told his workers “that after another 15, 16, 17, 18 years together, we’re going to be looking back on this day with a lot of appreciation.”

James Garcia, an account development representative who has worked for the company for two months, said he was surprised by the offer. The raise will just about double his salary, he said.

“I’m a recent university graduate and I’m trying to get as much debt off my back,” said Garcia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing at Boise State University and has about $20,000 in student debt. “With this, I can breathe a little easier, I can sleep easier and know that I’m going to be OK.”

Gravity Payments processes credit card payments for merchants. When Price bought Eagle-based ChargeItPro, which developed payment processing software for small businesses, employees earned salaries starting at $24,000.

Price increased the minimum pay to $40,000, which he said was the “most that the business could afford without completely toppling.” The raises erased most of the company’s profits, he said.

“But it just seemed like a more pressing thing for us to pay as close to a livable wage as possible,” he said.

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Dan Price, center right in green shirt, CEO of Gravity Payments, and Tammi Kroll, center left in pale blue, celebrate the opening of Gravity Payments’ new Boise office - as well as Price’s announcement that all employees, who are currently earning a minimum of $40,000, will be given an immediate raise to $50,000 and will be phased to $70,000 over the next four years. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

With Monday’s announcement, he said, ChargeItPro employees making less than $50,000 will be bumped up to that level. Over each of the next four years, they’ll get 5,000 raises that will bring them to $70,000.

Austin Roos, who manages an installation team for Gravity, already makes more than the minimum. Even so, he said he’s excited for workers who will see their paychecks increase.

“We talk a lot about taking away the stress for our clients,” said Roos, who has worked for Gravity for about seven years. “This will do the same for our workers.

During his announcement, Price said workers such as Roos who make more than $70,000 will benefit through bonuses and other things.

Gravity has given the 27th Street building, built in 1960 and formerly occupied by Associated General Contractors, an extensive makeover since buying it. Gone are the yellow pastel panels of old. Tinted floor-to-ceiling windows with black supports cover the front and back.

The building has room for 104 employees. Price said he expects to add workers over time, including software engineers, payment specialists and sales people.

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Employees applaud as Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, announces that all Boise employees, who are currently earning a minimum of $40,000, will be given an immediate raise to $50,000 and will be phased to $70,000. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“The mix of jobs in Boise, at least initially, will be very similar to the mix of jobs in Seattle, which is very heavy in software engineering, product management, sales and account maintenance, and customer service,” Price said. “And then some administrative jobs like fraud and security specialists — things that when you’re in the payments industry are kind of necessary.”

The Boise office will also have a “substantial number” of call center employees, who will also earn $70,000 after four years.

“Our competitors outsource those jobs to India and the Philippines and other places and offer very, very low wages, in some cases $2 to $3 or $4 an hour,” Price said. “And that’s an important job.”

A handful of the company’s Seattle workers have accepted offers to relocate to Boise, where the cost of living is lower and their salaries will go further, he said.

Price will continue to live in Seattle, but said he expects to come to Boise several times a year.

“Recently, my parents moved to Boise and they have a nice guest room,” he said. “I’m definitely going to be splitting time a bit more.”

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Gravity Payments moved into its new Boise office at 27th and West Main streets. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

His father, Ron Price, is well-known in Treasure Valley business circles as a longtime consultant, coach, speaker and author.

Gravity Payments was founded by Dan Price and his brother, Lucas Price, in 2004.

After the announcement about the $70,000 salaries in Seattle, a couple of Gravity Payments employees quit. They were upset that other employees were suddenly being handsomely compensated and that it appeared their own efforts weren’t being rewarded as well.

Lucas Price ended up suing his brother, saying Dan Price paid himself excessive amounts and violated his brother’s rights as minority stockholder. He sought to force a sale of the company or dissolve it. In 2016, a Seattle judge dismissed the case. Price bought out his brother and now owns the entire company.

The company has continued to prosper in the four years since the higher wages were ushered in. Employee turnover has gone down significantly, Price said.

“The Seattle market tends to have high turnover, because Amazon drives a lot of the culture, and it’s just a high turnover environment there,” Price said. “But our turnover has been much lower ... since the $70,000 minimum wage came in.”

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Gravity Payments opens its new Boise office on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, at 110 N. 27th St. Some employees are moving from an Eagle business bought by Gravity, ChargeItPro. Others are moving from Gravity’s Seattle headquarters. John Sowell jsowell@idahostatesman.com

Before then, Gravity Payments employees collectively averaged zero to two babies born per year. Since then, Price said, they average close to six to seven per year, with 30 total babies born in that time.

“It’s really fantastic to see people literally growing their families and having the resources to do so,” Price said. “We went from having virtually no first-time homeowners to, now, there’s roughly a half-dozen or so first-time homeowners.”

The number of employees saving for their retirement accounts has tripled, a third have become debt-free, and two-thirds have significantly paid down their debt, Price said.

Last year, Gravity Payments and its 200 employees processed $10.2 billion in payments. In 2014, before the announcement of the pay increase, it processed $3.8 billion.

“There was a lot of chatter after the announcement that employees would waste their money, that it was a stupid idea and that it would hurt everyone,” Price said. “I think we have definitely proven that wrong.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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