Moca Financial CEO: Bastrop in store for a Google-like office campus

By: Justin Sayers – Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

(Reprinted with permission from Austin Business Journal. Original article published on August 24, 2021 and can be viewed here.)

Update: Moca Ventures Nebraska LLC on Aug. 24 received unanimous approval from the Bastrop City Council for the incentives agreement, with city staff noting that the project could potentially bring up to 700 jobs — higher than previously reported. One more vote is required to make it official. It’s set to be approved as part of the consent agenda during the Council’s Sept. 14 meeting.

There is new clarity around an economic development project that is expected to bring dozens of jobs — and eventually hundreds — to a 26.5-acre site in the Bastrop Business and Industrial Park.

In the rural city east of Austin, Moca Financial Inc. plans to build a headquarters campus channeling a Silicon Valley vibe. The company has developed an alternative to traditional bank-issued debit and credit cards, with a Visa-powered technology platform.

Bastrop Economic Development Corp. on Aug. 16 unanimously approved a modified incentives agreement with Moca Ventures Nebraska LLC, a newly formed Texas company. The economic development performance agreement was originally with John Baasch Augers and Flighting Inc., a Nebraska-based manufacturer of augers and other agricultural machines.

The agreement also needs the approval of Bastrop City Council.

John Baasch, who runs the eponymous auger company, is a lead investor in Bastrop-based Moca Financial and sits on its board, according to Moca Financial CEO John Burns. Baasch helped finance the development, and attorneys advised him to create the new LLC to avoid confusion, Burns said.

Moca Ventures Nebraska LLC was incorporated on June 29, according to public records.

Moca Financial was founded in 2018, and spent its first couple of years building technology for its launch, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Burns said his team has been “growing like crazy” because banks see their “one-stop shop” application as a new frontier to make money. They mainly work with community banks, having publicly announced partnerships with banks and credit unions in Latin America and that service the U.S. military.

“That message is really selling well,” he said.

They have big plans for the site, which will look a lot like a Google or Facebook campus, with open space, water features, bike trails and an amphitheater, Burns said. It’ll incorporate at least three buildings — they’re hoping to breaking ground on the first two in the next nine months and open them in about a year.

The company currently has 40 employees, half of whom live locally, according to Burns. He said that the new site will initially be able to house about 100 employees, with room for about 300 in the third building, which can be constructed when ready.

“It’ll be interesting for Bastrop,” he said. “It’s pretty unusual for the Bastrop Industrial Park.”

The Bastrop EDC, which owns the property in the industrial park, had unanimously approved the agreement — codenamed Project Swipe — during a meeting on June 30 for at least 40,000 square feet of offices that will house software engineers, a call center and other business development operations. It was pulled by the applicant from a City Council meeting on July 13 for undisclosed reasons before resurfacing during the Aug. 16 EDC meeting.

The terms of the agreement did not change. Bastrop EDC is agreeing to sell the space for the development for $900,000, according to city documents. Susan Nogues of Bastrop’s Susan Nogues Real Estate LLC served as the broker on the sale.

The incentives agreement also stipulates that the company would be required to invest a minimum of $10.7 million in the property and have an office complex or campus with at least 40,000 square feet. The agreement does not require the creation or retention of additional payroll or jobs. The business has to provide proof of the investment and a certificate of occupancy by Jan. 1, 2026.

In return, the Bastrop EDC is required to rebate $900,000, less the closing costs, for the purchase of the site, plus $3,500 in attorney fees within 30 days of the receipt of the certificate of occupancy, according to the documents.

Burns said he thinks the city, which has remained relatively rural compared with the booming growth in many other Austin suburbs, aided them with the sale of the land because “we’re different than their typical profile.”

Burns, who had sold two other companies before launching Moca, said that he has a farm near Bastrop, and feedback from his employees when they launched indicated they would rather drive there than get stuck in traffic in the urban core.

“When I started talking to a lot of our team and developers, they would rather drive out to Bastrop — a lot of our employees live south — than drive across Austin to a northwest location,” Burns said. “They just thought it was so much easier to drive out to Bastrop in the morning then driving out to Northwest Austin.”

He added that he thinks Bastrop is going to part of a new “high-tech corridor” in the Austin metro.

“Bastrop is a charming little town,” he said. “I think it’s the next big growth corridor.”

Bastrop County has been somewhat of a magnet recently for out-of-state companies. A Southern California-based company recently received Council approval for Bastrop 552, a 546-acre film production campus. Elon Musk’s tunneling startup, The Boring Company, has purchased 73 acres northwest of Bastrop. Job postings recently highlighted plans to develop an autonomous tunnel boring machine and mentioned the company’s research and development site in Bastrop.

Other companies in the Bastrop Business and Industrial Park include AEI Technologies, Elliott Electric Supply, Deep in the Heart Art Foundry and Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, according to the Bastrop EDC website.