• The Downtown Dividend: More than Attracting Talent

  • JULY 15, 2015

  • 3 Surprising Benefits of Relocating Downtown

  • Nearly 500 companies moved or expanded in walkable downtowns over the past five years. A new report, released last month, explains why—and some of the reasons may surprise you.

    “Core Values: Why American Companies Are Moving Downtown” states that although attracting millennials and talent of all ages is the Number One reason companies move downtown, there were other compelling drivers in their decision. Among them: living company values, changing corporate culture, and brand visibility. The report and an interactive map are available at Smart Growth America, which issued the study in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield and the George Washington University School of Business’ Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis.

    “Employees don’t have to come into work; they could work from a coffee shop,” said Amy Ronneberg, CFO of Be A Match, formally known as the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit located in Minneapolis’s North Loop section. Noting that companies need to offer a work experience, not just a job, Ronneberg emphasized the need to bring people together. “We [want to put] them in a room where 10 people can work together on a project. We need [everyone’s individual] skills to push that project forward.”

    Ronneberg and executives from Panasonic and Fifth Third Bank explained why their companies had relocated downtown at the Smart Growth America Core Values kickoff event (recording of live stream here). Panelists pointed out three surprising dividends they have reaped from the move.

    1. ‘Walking the Talk’

    Fifth Third Bank, metropolitan Detroit’s sixth largest bank, relocated headquarters and more than 150 employees to Detroit from Southfield, Michigan to “live our core values as a corporation, improve lives and well-being of communities,” said Jack Riley, a bank senior vice president. He said the move enhanced the bank’s reputation for leadership. “It [the move] is a tremendous platform to demonstrate who we are and what we represent.”

    Jim Reilly, vice president of corporate communications at Panasonic, echoed Riley. “Employees love that we are walking the talk,” he explained about Panasonic’s move from an office park in Secaucus, New Jersey to downtown Newark, New Jersey. “We are making economic contributions and contributing to the community that would not have been possible in our previous location.”

    2. Increased Visibility

    Ronneberg said the Match saw an opportunity to increase brand awareness by moving its 900 employees, who were spread out over two buildings along the Interstate, into one branded building where they are the only tenant. The nonprofit program’s location in Minneapolis’ artsy North Loop neighborhood is two blocks from Target Field and next to a light rail station serving many commuters. “You are looking at 30,000 people walking by on a regular basis,” she said. ”Being downtown gave us the ability to create high visibility for our brand.”

    3. Changing the Culture
    Reilly said Panasonic believed: “By taking the entire organization and moving it from this suburban corporate park to the core of the city one block from Newark Penn Station, we saw the opportunity to allow people to look at what they were doing and look at our business in a different way, and we saw this as an opportunity to spur innovation. And we have been very pleased.” Previously they had been at the same location for 40 years, “which is a long time to be anywhere. And you fall into certain habits of thought.”

    How About Urban ‘Burbs?

    “Core Values: Why American Companies Are Moving Downtown” notes that the move to 24/7 Live.Work.Play. communities was not limited to center cities, but is happening also in walkable suburban locations.

    “That’s why the WCA continues to support the development of Westchester’s own Urban ‘Burbs,” says Marissa Brett, president of the Westchester County Association.

    “We have the ability to create the type of exciting, stimulating, and innovative mixed-use, transit-oriented development in the cities in our county. What’s more, our space is more affordable than in New York City and more convenient for workforce members who value the good schools and lifestyle of our county. We have a great opportunity to make Westchester the sweet spot where lifestyle, economics, convenience, and quality of life converge—and easy access to New York City. Who else can offer that?”

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