Hot Spots For Hq Jobs

Posted: September 09, 2007

Six years ago, AT&T Corp. was negotiating to sell its cable business to Comcast Corp. As part of the negotiations, AT&T asked Comcast executives Ralph and Brian Roberts to relocate the company headquarters to New York.

The Robertses' response: "No way." The headquarters would stay in Philadelphia. AT&T backed off, and Comcast eventually sealed a deal in 2002.

Comcast, now the nation's largest cable company and fifth-largest phone company, is building a 57-story tower in Center City, plunking the equivalent of a suburban corporate park in the city for its headquarters. It has pledged thousands of jobs to fill it.

Does this say something broader about the region's economy and Philadelphia's attraction as a headquarters town?

Perhaps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of "headquarters" employees in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs has jumped 50 percent since the 2001 recession, to 31,100 jobs. Nationwide, headquarters jobs rose 8 percent, to 1.9 million, in that period.

The agency has not said where the new jobs came from. Some likely are part of Comcast. But other companies have opened or expanded headquarters in the region, such as Tyco Electronics Ltd. and the U.S. arm of Shire P.L.C., both in Tredyffrin in Chester County.

A first-of-its-kind study by the bureau, published in May, looked at headquarters jobs in big U.S. counties. The study, using mid-2006 job data, placed Philadelphia about where economists think it should be for its size: roughly comparable to the counties that include Manhattan, Seattle and Cleveland.

It significantly trailed some headquarters-rich areas, such as the counties that include Minneapolis; Charlotte, N.C.; and Cincinnati. But Philadelphia wasn't at the bottom of the list - to the joy of civic boosters.

"The economy of this region today is based on businesses that are up and coming rather than declining, and it was not always that way in the last 50 years," said Thomas G. Morr, president and chief executive officer of Select Greater Philadelphia, an affiliate of the chamber of commerce.

"You're right in the thick of the big cities," said Paul Ferree, government economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and author of the bureau study.

Ferree looked at 275 of the largest U.S. counties and calculated their relative concentration of headquarters jobs, using a mechanism called location quotients.

A location quotient compares headquarters workforces across geographic areas by adjusting for differing sizes of local economies. A location quotient of 1.0 translates into a job concentration the same as the nation.

Philadelphia County (another designation for the city) has a location quotient of 1.5 for headquarters jobs, or a concentration 1.5 times the national average, and ranked No. 66 among the 275 counties.

The rankings of other big-city counties with location quotients of 1.5 or 1.6 included King County, Wash. (Seattle), No. 59; New York County (Manhattan), No. 60; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland), No. 67.

Benton County, Ark., home of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., had the richest mix of headquarters employees in the nation - more than 10 times the national average, according to government data. About 13 percent of all employees in Benton County, Ark., worked at the Wal-Mart head office, or some other headquarters or subsidiary head office.

More than one-fifth of the wages in the county were paid to workers in those jobs.

Richard Davis, vice president of economic development for the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, said that 1,400 Wal-Mart suppliers had opened offices in northwest Arkansas, an area dubbed "Vendorville," and that another wave of companies in packaging, information technology and marketing were opening offices. Northwest Arkansas, once a land of chicken farmers, has added about 500 jobs a month since 2000, he said.

"Pretty soon," Davis gushed, "we're going to have a Starbucks on every corner."

Fortune 500 corporations can define a city or region. Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta. Microsoft Corp. in Seattle. Enron Corp., when it was a viable company, in Houston. Local areas most successful at building headquarters jobs typically generate many small companies that grow into big companies, or have big companies that expand and attract others, experts say.

Morr, of Select Greater Philadelphia, said the group did a public-opinion survey a couple of years ago. "We didn't have a bad reputation among businesspeople," he said. "They just didn't think about us much."

Morr explains to audiences how the Philadelphia economy has modernized. Financial firms have about $2 trillion in assets under management in the region; one of the largest drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen Corp., is in the western suburbs; and tens of thousands of regional employees work in drug firms or their suppliers.

Ferree's study is part of an ongoing look by public officials at the nation's huge service economy. Earlier this decade, the federal government released a new job-classification system to provide analysts with more information on job functions in the postindustrial economy.

One of the new job classifications identified workplaces that functioned primarily as the brains of an organization, or headquarters.

This could include corporate headquarters, regional headquarters, foreign subsidiary head offices, and administrative centers. The government does not disclose the names of the companies, just job numbers. The reports are made to the government by the companies. Experts note that the reporting method could lead to miscounting.

Nationally, 1.7 million people work in headquarters jobs, and they earned an average weekly wage of $1,555, or $80,860 a year. The figures were taken in the second quarter of 2006, so they do not include bonuses, Ferree noted.

In the Philadelphia area, almost 42,000 workers are employed in headquarters jobs, but the pay varies by county. Headquarters workers in Philadelphia earned $1,651 a week. In Bucks County, they earned $981 a week. The best-paid in South Jersey were those in Camden County, where Campbell Soup Co. has its head office - they earned $2,121 a week.

Even with the recent gains in the Philadelphia area, there is room for improvement. The region as a whole ranked No. 7 among the 10 largest metropolitan areas, according to an Inquirer analysis of the county data. One big reason: The Philadelphia suburbs here didn't compare favorably with some big suburbs in other areas.

Regional experts say small biotech companies in the Philadelphia suburbs might not generate the employment that companies in other suburban areas do.

According to the Census Bureau, the Philadelphia metropolitan area encompasses Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania; Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem Counties in New Jersey; New Castle County in Delaware; and Cecil County in Maryland.

Five counties in the region fell below the national average for headquarters-jobs concentrations. They were Bucks and Delaware Counties in Pennsylvania, and Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties in South Jersey. Cecil and Salem Counties were too small to be included in the government study of big counties.

Philadelphia has lost corporate headquarters over the years - Strawbridge & Clothier and CoreStates, to name two from the 1990s. But many are still in the city: drug giant GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C.; gasoline refiner Sunoco Inc.; chemical companies FMC Corp. and Rohm & Haas Co.; food-services firm Aramark Corp.; retailers Deb Shops Inc., Mothers Work Inc., and Urban Outfitters Inc.; mortgage insurer Radian Group Inc.; and snacks manufacturer Tasty Baking Co.

David Cohen, executive vice president at Comcast, said the cable company had the largest headquarters presence in Philadelphia and maybe Pennsylvania.

With the Comcast Center, officials hope that entertainment and technology suppliers will locate in the area to rub elbows with Comcast honchos, as vendors have done with Wal-Mart bigwigs in Bentonville.

"You are looking at everyone feeding off that building," said Richard Stein, research director with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia. "You would hope there is a vertical supply chain associated with Comcast that will grow."

John Boyd, president of his own Princeton corporate-relocation firm, said companies had been considering relocating their corporate headquarters to save money. He said he thought Philadelphia had improved its regional competitiveness. "Comcast has drawn a line in the sand," he said, "and they are investing in downtown."

Joel Naroff, chief economist with Commerce Bank in Cherry Hill, said it was good to hear that Philadelphia wasn't at the bottom of the barrel in headquarters jobs. "If you go back to the 1950s, everything that we had, we lost," Naroff said. "We got to the 1990s, and we were empty."

Or at least that has been a commonly held belief.


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

 

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