Sunday, September 8, 2013

FMC looks for a new HQ

by Joseph N. DiStefano

 There aren't a lot of big employers looking for a new headquarters in Philadelphia. That has made Pierre Brondeau, chief executive of FMC Corp., extra popular among governors, mayors, landlords, and their agents. They are excited - anxious, in Philly's case - by the question of how far Brondeau will be moving the multinational chemical company and hundreds of managers and staff from current digs at 1735 Market St. when the lease runs out. "We will make a decision in September," Brondeau told me. "We have to make a decision by December."

 Landlords such as Liberty Property Trust, which built sites for GlaxoSmithKline, Tasty Baking, Urban Outfitters, and Iroko Pharmaceuticals at the old Navy base in South Philadelphia, would have loved to build FMC a tower of its own. Liberty built Comcast Center, the city's tallest building. Brandywine Realty Trust, which owns five of the 10 biggest buildings in Center City, has been scouting for tenants to join the University of Pennsylvania at a proposed new high-rise. Brandywine would be thrilled to accommodate FMC. But FMC is a lean operation, and Brondeau doesn't have an edifice complex. "We do not need a building like Comcast or Glaxo, who occupy their entire buildings," he added. "We are not going to build a building." Still and all, he says it has been surprisingly tough to find big blocks of contiguous office space. Philadelphia missed out on the office-building bubble of the mid-2000s.

 FMC plus someone else could fill a tower. As Brondeau put it: "We may move into a building built for multiple tenants, for multiple purposes. We may occupy half the building, or one-third. It's much more flexible to rent floors." In a city where rents have not changed much in 20 years, why not just stretch across several vacant spaces? "I still think it's important for a company our size to have a headquarters that presents who we are and what we do," Brondeau said. "When you want to recruit people from the other end of the world, you want to show you are a company, for real. But it doesn't have to be a huge building." This being Philadelphia, FMC is also being recruited by New Jersey and Delaware.

Just as Philadelphia is trying to lure Subaru of America's headquarters from Cherry Hill, to the consternation of Jersey officials. FMC has operations in all three states. Brondeau talks regularly with Mayor Nutter, whom Brondeau calls "an exceptional guy." "He'll do anything he can to help us stay in Philadelphia," Brondeau added. Gov. Corbett's office has also called to help.

Brondeau is a big Philly fan: "My wife is from Chicago, we spent eight years in Boston, but Philadelphia is special, Philadelphia is cool. People are nicer. Oh, yeah. I worked many places in France, in Asia. I showed my family the world. And they all came back here." Rittenhouse Square or Washington Square on a sunny day with flowering trees and cafés full of friends, it might be Paris, Brondeau likes to say.

 But Wilmington's all right, too: "Delaware is a very friendly state for corporations," he said. "And our plant down there in Newark is operating very well." And there's plenty of space vacated by DuPont, Bank of America, and AstraZeneca. "But then, we have to look at our employees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," Brondeau said. "I don't want to make their lives miserable. Will Delaware create a problem for them?" And Jersey, he included: "We have an R&D center in Ewing, near Trenton. I go there very often. It's a 40-minute drive." Close to Amtrak, Princeton, New York. "These are all natural places for us to be," Brondeau said. Elected officials need jobs, taxes, and some wins. So they're friendly to Pierre Brondeau. He thinks the federal government in Washington might learn from their example. "The mayors, the governors, they all want to work with us. With industry," Brondeau said.
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