Following talent, suburban businesses open up shop in Philadelphia

The perfect storm converged on Brian Adams’ commute one evening in June.

“The Sixers were playing a night game, and I think it was against Boston, so it was sold out,” said Adams, “and also there was a Phillies game at the same time. And they had also just started the construction on the Ben Franklin bridge.”

And then there was the traffic to the shore.

Ultimately, his 30 mile trip home to Philadelphia from his company’s offices in Blue Bell, Pa. took him two hours.

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Adams starts in a new office in Philadelphia this week, but with the same firm.  Fiberlink, a company that manages mobile devices for workplaces is launching its own experiment in working remotely. 

The firm plans to have 100 employees in offices on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The 2010 census shows Philadelphia’s population growing for the first time since 1950.  That turn-around is thanks in part to young people who decided to stick around the city after college.

Now, some regional companies that are headquartered in the suburbs have decided they have to join them, installing what the city of Philadelphia is calling “gateway offices” in Center City. Fiberlink’s new location is around the corner from Alan Greenberger’s office where he’s Philadelphia’s head of economic development.

Greenberger considers them pioneers: Fiberlink, and then Bentley systems, another suburban company that has established its Center City outpost in the same building.”We’re talking to other companies, I wish I could tell you who they were, but I can’t yet,” said Greenberger. 

“This is all being done without tax tricks, or you know property tax relief or other financial incentives. This is being done for straight up business reasons,” he said.Account manager Brian Adams and his peers are the business reasons companies are expanding in Philadelphia – the young, talented workforce.  Everyone in this story really heaps on the praise on these young professionals. They live in Philadelphia, and want to work here too. Fiberlink CEO Jim Sheward is about to start making the commute the other way, three or four days a week. He lives closer to the current headquarters in Blue Bell.

“We started to realize that our lack of a downtown office was a big factor for candidates that we liked who eventually chose not to take an offer,” said Sheward.Doing the math, the company decided those losses outweighed the costs of setting up an office in Center City. The company will now have to pay the city’s widely-criticized business privilege tax. Sheward says Philadelphia benefits from relatively cheaper downtown office space compared to urban centers like Boston. For now, its new space is nearly empty. But hopes the new hires will fill it soon.”It’s all starting to come together for us,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “Having companies reach out who just want to be in the number one city for culture and just want to be in the number one city for culture, and want to be in a city that is growing and dynamic.”The Mayor considers the relationship with the suburbs symbiotic. Companies won’t consider moving their headquarters right now, in this uncertain economy. But these “gateway offices” can offer a space to grow. And, Nutter suggests, if a company really wants to move wholesale to Philadelphia, no one’s going to stand in their way.  

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