11 CEOs on Why They Keep Their Businesses Headquartered in Philly
The leaders at Comcast, Bassetts Ice Cream, Aramark and more explain why they stay rooted in the City of Brotherly Love (even when they most certainly have the option to settle anywhere else).
A lot has been said about why Philadelphia might not be the best place to start and grow a business. The city’s business tax rates — some of the highest of any large metro in the country — are enough reason to give up on the city. But many businesses haven’t for various reasons. We reached out to a handful of local business leaders to learn what keeps them grounded in the city and region, with no plans to relocate their headquarters anywhere else. For starters, many point to the region’s talent pool, sports teams and storied history as elements they can’t be without.
Michael Strange, President, Bassetts Ice Cream
“Philadelphia was once known as the ice cream capital of America. Breyers, Abbotts, Dolly Madison and Sealtest, among others, all started here.”
Bassetts has been in Philly since founder Louis DuBois Bassett began selling his mule-churned ice cream at a shop on the corner of 5th and Market. Even though they’ve expanded and now distribute their ice cream internationally, they have never seriously considered leaving Philly.
“The most public face of our brand has been our ice cream counter in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market since it opened in 1893. We have always felt that it was important to have our corporate headquarters close to this iconic shop,” CEO Michael Strange told Philly Mag.
Antoinette Marie Johnson, Founder and CEO, Cohere
“Cohere is a refreshing alternative in a sea of the same because we choose to be in Philly.”
Even with a New York City office opening in the fall, Cohere’s headquarters are here to stay. The Midtown Village based branding agency, which focuses on re-branding underutilized urban spaces, loves that Philly lets them escape the “rat race” of larger U.S. cities, according to CEO Antoinette Marie Johnson.
“We end up attracting talent from top markets in people who are fed up with the cut-throat nature of NYC and LA. They deserve to be treated as human beings and want to work on projects with a purpose and mission,” Johnson said. “We choose to remain headquartered in Philadelphia because it’s essential to our culture and mission. As a non-traditional branding agency, we work with projects that transform urban landscapes and what better city to do that than Philadelphia?”
Brian Roberts, CEO, Comcast
“Moving Comcast out of Philadelphia wasn’t up for discussion.”
Comcast has called Philly home since its founding 55 years ago and has never considered leaving. CEO Brian Roberts and founder Ralph Roberts even told AT&T Broadband that moving Comcast out of Philly was a “deal-breaker” during their 2002 acquisition.
“Philadelphia is a fantastic place to live and work. With its great public transportation; booming arts, culture and restaurants scene; renowned higher educational institutions; and great outdoor activities and open spaces, the city is an attractive place for people of all ages and stages of their lives,” says Brian Roberts.
The company’s connection to Philly is so strong that it has added a second building, the Comcast Technology Center, to the city’s skyline. The Comcast Technology Center will officially open next year.
Tayyib Smith, Cofounder, Little Giant Creative
“Philadelphia is a perfect base for satellite work.”
For Little Giant Creative, Philly’s central location and sense of identity mean are key. The boutique ad agency’s Philly headquarters allows them to access clients across the East Coast.
“We are located in the most powerful corridor in the world between New York City and D.C without the breakneck pace, exorbitant cost of living and callous veneer. We haven’t really considered moving our business anywhere else,” cofounder Tayyib Smith said. “We are an agency that has authentic communication and identity at its core, which in its purest sense, is what Philadelphia is about.”
Nick Bayer, Founder and CEO, Saxbys
“Philly is so uniquely poised to help us achieve our goals.”
In 2005, Saxbys CEO Nick Bayer set out on a mission to open his first neighborhood café, and since then, he says, Philly’s college scene has helped his unique, student run shops flourish.
“We began Saxbys in Philadelphia with a mission to ‘Make Life Better,’ chiefly through social impact efforts geared towards education and opportunity. Our Experiential Learning Program partners with universities to introduce exclusively student-run cafes to undergrad campuses, where students earn wages, college credit, and unparalleled tangible experience as a supplement to traditional classroom learning. The higher ed. market in Philly — expansive, diverse, and not risk averse — really enabled this program to grow and thrive,” Bayer said. “Our greatest resource has always been and will always be our people, and Philly is a city that attracts some of the best and brightest.”
Eric J. Foss, Chairman, President, and CEO, Aramark
“Philadelphia’s roots are symbolic of the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation that fuel global companies like Aramark forward.”
Even companies on the move don’t stray too far from Philly. When Aramark was planning to move into new headquarters two years ago, they made a commitment to stay in Philly and retain the all the partnerships they have in the city.
“Philadelphia is a historic and vibrant city that Aramark has called home for over half a century,” CEO Eric J. Foss said. “I am very proud of our many long-standing partnerships with the city’s most recognized sports venues, hospitals, businesses and colleges; our support for community programs focused on health and wellness, workforce development and the arts; and our sponsorship of major events that impacted the city’s economy like the Papal Visit, DNC Convention and NFL Draft.”
Aramark began making the move to its new headquarters along the Schuylkill earlier this summer.
Mortimer “Tim” J. Buckley, CEO, The Vanguard Group
“Philadelphia is an ideal place to live, work, and grow a business.”
A long history, terrific sports teams, and a large pool of talented applicants are among the top reasons this Valley Forge based mutual investment fund calls the Philadelphia area home.
“Vanguard has called the Philadelphia area home since our founding. As an employer, Vanguard benefits from a deep talent pool sourced from the region’s leading academic institutions, as well as Philadelphia’s strong business, tech, and entrepreneur communities. Our crew members also enjoy Philadelphia’s vibrant neighborhoods, great health care, rich history, leading arts, outdoor life, and relative affordability, not to mention terrific sports teams,” Buckley told Philly Mag.
Terry D. Steelman, Principal, Ballinger
“Philadelphia allows us to tap into the exceptional talent pool of architects and engineers and keeps us a walk, bike, or SEPTA ride away from many of our nearby clients.”
Founded in 1878, this engineering and architecture firm helped design the factories that shaped Philly’s industrial revolution. Now, the company is focused on designing the new academic science and healthcare spaces as well as corporate workspaces that will shape the city’s future.
“Our firm’s design specialty aligns well with the primary institutions of the Philadelphia region focused on programmatically and technically complex projects, many of them in the sciences,” Steelman said. “Our firm’s expertise parallels the personality of the city, and we’ve had success transferring that skill beyond Philadelphia to leading institutions, hospitals, and corporate clients across the U.S.”
Todd Carmichael, CEO, La Colombe
“Why would you sever your roots and try to move an oak tree?”
La Colombe’s founders have traversed the world to study the best ways to source and brew coffee, but, even with all that worldly experience, they still choose to call their flagship shop in Fishtown home.
“La Colombe’s roots are deep in the city of Philadelphia. It’s like an unmovable beast. To move it would be to threaten its life and its health,” cofounder and CEO Todd Carmichael told Philly Mag. “Without Philadelphia there wouldn’t be a La Colombe. La Colombe extracts its spirit, essence and soul from Philadelphia… I have never and would never consider moving the headquarters to somewhere else.”
Alfred P. West, Chairman and CEO, SEI Investments Company
“Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial spirit, the innovation and inspiration spurred by the arts, and the level of business startups – particularly in the broader technology space – fuel positive business and cultural energies.”
While SEI thought of leaving the area in their early days, the Philadelphia area has a special draw for the 50-year-old investments company.
“Our ties to the University of Pennsylvania and the technology startup culture were keys to staying,” CEO Alfred P. West said. “[Philly’s] proximity to New York City, the financial services industry hub, is an advantage as well. Although costs continue to rise, comparatively, it is still an economically positive place to live and work.”
Sergio Coscia, Principal, Coscia Moos Architecture
“There was no other option than to be in Center City.”
Even though this Center City architecture firm only opened eight years ago, the team is already official sold on Philly. They choose to headquarter in the city because they “wanted to be regarded as an urban Philadelphia firm,” Sergio Coscia, one of the principal architects, told Philly Mag.
“We felt it was important to be in Center City, especially for our clients. Most of our clients are within walking distance.” Coscia said. “Being in the city allows us to run into our clients or consultants really casually and organically sometimes. Like when we’re out to lunch or something, we’ll see them and start talking. It’s really nice. We’re rooted in the city at this point. You get to know the people, what works and what doesn’t.”
Even if they were to consider opening another location, Coscia said they will always be headquartered in Philly.