Cranes are lining our skyline this spring. Millions of dollars in construction and not just in Armory Square, but all over downtown. The majority of the buildings being converted include residential options, but there is another trend on the horizon. Headquarters and corporate offices are moving away from the large office parks and back into walkable environments. Fueled by millennials and their desire to live and work in urban environments, even small cities such as Syracuse are welcoming back major employers.
A recent study completed by Smart Growth America outlines the reasons behind the trend as well as the types of industries that are moving. Interestingly, the study showed that companies ranging from a few people to thousands of people and in industries all across the board are re-planting in downtown’s. In Syracuse we are seeing the same type of migration. From manufacturing (Ephesus) to medical office (Upstate) and the building industry (Arcadis), downtown is experiencing in a surge in employers looking for the benefits that urban offices can offer.
Smart growth outlined the following as motivating factors for companies to move back downtown:
- To attract and retain talented workers. As companies compete for new hires and the best talent, being located in a vibrant neighborhood is considered a crucial selling point. The businesses in our study report that current and potential employees want neighborhoods with restaurants, cafes, cultural institutions, entertainment, and nightlife as well as easy access by public transportation.
- To build brand identity and company culture: A downtown location projects innovation, contentedness, uniqueness, and allows companies to literally be at the center of things. For many companies, moving downtown was a way to set themselves apart from their competitors and to inspire their employees to live up to related brand aspirations.
- To support creative collaboration: Many companies chose locations in dynamic, creative, engaging neighborhoods to help inspire their employees and encourage collaboration among co-workers as well as with employees at other companies or in other industries.
- To be closer to customers and business partners: Streamlining the process for employees who take in-person meetings with clients and partners downtown.
- To centralize operations: A central downtown location, because of its proximity to everything, was a natural choice for many companies when downtown committee consolidating multiple locations, particularly if those locations were spread out over a single region.
- To support triple-bottom line business outcomes: For many companies, investing in a city’s center was an opportunity for good corporate citizenship and a way to use their sizable investing power for good. Some reported that triple-bottom line business practices came with the ancillary benefit of making them more attractive as an employer.
There are of course deterrents as well. Parking, crime and litter top the list of reasons employees would be opposed to moving from the suburbs. Many efforts by the Downtown Committee and the City of Syracuse have helped to alleviate those concerns such as the addition of cameras to traffic poles and creative parking agreements take some of the burden off of the employee, but there is still much to be done to accommodate employers.
We predict we are just in the beginning stages of the migration from office parks to the perks that come with a downtown location. Employers will continue to chase millennials into downtown’s where they prefer to set up their life in a walkable fashion. Companies choosing this route will sacrifice space for vibrancy and in doing so, find they are more adaptable and efficient for taking that leap.