Businesses moving back to the center: not a universal trend
Motorola--a much smaller company compared to its heyday--announced it is moving its headquarters to Downtown Chicago from suburban Schaumburg ("Motorola Solutions moving headquarters, 800 jobs to Chicago," Chicago Tribune). From the article:
In making the move back to Chicago, Motorola Solutions adds its name to a growing list of companies that have decided to jettison the suburbs for downtown digs, primarily in the city's Loop and West Loop neighborhoods. The list includes such venerable names as Kraft Heinz, Hillshire Brands and United Airlines, and they are all after the same thing: A tech-savyy, younger workforce that wants to work in the bright lights and big city, not on a sprawling suburban office campus. ...State Farm--one of the nation's largest automobile insurers--has announced that they are locating new regional facilities in transit-adjacent locations in Tempe (Phoenix), Dallas ("New development to bring 650 apartments to Rowlett," Dallas Morning News), and Atlanta. To me the Dallas location is more about automobility than transit, but the company has made statements that transit access is key to their decision-making going forward. From the Arizona Republic article "Light rail now a must for central Phoenix development":
Motorola Solutions is the 36th company to locate its headquarters in Chicago since 2011, according to the city.
... State Farm Insurance Co. is going to lease almost all of a two million square foot, $600 million development on [Tempe] Town Lake because it is "vibrant." And a big part of being vibrant is its availability of public transportation.
"Access to public transportation and multiple transportation options is critical to our operations going forward," said State Farm's chief operating officer about the company's choice of Tempe. That is corporate-speak for: We wouldn't be here without the light-rail.
And the Atlanta Business Chronicle terms State Farm's focus as more about "reshaping suburbs" than relocating to city centers ("How State Farm will remake 'outdated' suburbs"). The Dunwoody location is across the street from a MARTA subway station.
But the Philadelphia Inquirer reports ("Center city losing its position as a corporate metropolis") that other than Comcast's construction of a new headquarters, which includes bringing some NBC-related jobs in since they acquired NBCUniversal, corporations aren't moving back to Center City Philadelphia in the way that it has been reported in other cities.
From the article:
In the last two years, publicly traded Cigna, Sunoco, Arkema, Dow Chemical's advanced materials division (formerly Rohm and Haas), and Destination Maternity all moved their headquarters to the suburbs or out of state, following the vanished banks, insurance companies, railroads and manufacturers.
A few public companies have moved downtown - DuPont spin-off Axalta Coating Systems from Wilmington, and construction-project manager Hill International moved in from South Jersey.
But mostly, since 2000 Philadelphia "has witnessed a long, slow march to branch office-ville," says Howard Trauger, boss at Schuylkill Capital Management and a student of the local corporate scene since his days managing family fortunes at the former Girard Trust Co. Pittsburgh, less than one-fifth Philadelphia's size, can brag of bigger banks, manufacturers and energy companies, Trauger says.According to Joseph DiStefano the author of the PI story, Paul Levy, the director of the Center City Philadelphia BID:
identified three groups of communities as to their attractiveness to corporate headquarters: those relatively attractive due to low costs and (by now) existing corporate concentrations (Texas cities, Atlanta); those with higher costs that are willing to spend a lot of money in subsidies to attract or keep companies (New Jersey, Illinois/Chicago, Connecticut); and those Northeastern cities like Philadelphia where the cost structure is high but there is not political will for very large subsidies.DiStefano says "some of my readers disagree and say the new-construction tax breaks in Philadelphia are a large unfair subsidy." That can be an issue when tenants in existing buildings are attracted to new buildings also in the Center City but with lower rents because of tax breaks.
It's reported that DC is keeping the Advisory Board ("Exclusive: Advisory Board Co. picks new headquarters location," Washington Business Journal), but DC hasn't experienced the kind of relocation of businesses to the center city comparable to Chicago or San Francisco ("Blending Tech Workers and Locals in San Francisco's Mid-Market," New York Times). It's more focused on not losing organizations, especially federal agencies, to the suburbs.
And clearly, at least with the suburban business center "relocations," placemaking and urban design elements are likely to be an ongoing issue (also see "A lesson that seeing is believing: Panasonic's new building in Newark, NJ as an example, positive and negative, in businesses coming back to the city center").