Companies shutter suburban offices for space intown | Crain's Atlanta

Companies shutter suburban offices for space intown

  • Equifax is closing its Sandy Springs office to move all of its employees to One Atlantic Center in Midtown. | Photo courtesy of Equifax

  • Athenahealth closed its Alpharetta office in 2013 to move to Ponce City Market. | Photo courtesy of athenahealth

In the next few weeks, Equifax will close its Sandy Springs office for good. The Atlanta-based credit reporting agency has already moved most of the employees to its new office in Midtown.

“The expansion will help us really attract terrific new talent, millennials and strengthen our workforce,” said Andy Bodea, Equifax’s chief global operations officer.

Equifax is part of a growing trend of companies moving from the suburbs to locations intown. Coca-Cola has already moved thousands of employees from Cobb County to the city. Gwinnett County is losing tech company NCR and thousands of jobs to NCR’s new headquarters in Midtown. Other companies that have relocated to the city, or plan to, include casino gaming products company AGS and financial tech firms Global Payments and Worldpay.

Kevin Johnson of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, said a few factors explain why companies leave the suburbs. Many businesses are “under the influence of the millennial behavior,” he said.

“Being in more kind of urban core settings is appealing to them. That has given the notion that if you are to be an attractive company to that population, then some physical adjustments on where you do business have to be considered,” said Johnson, senior vice president of economic development. “Years ago, when I was out in the workforce, I went to where the job was. The way things are now, the job comes to where I am, and I think that is a seed change both in Atlanta and other places around the world.”

Equifax’s new office includes standing desks, foosball tables and city views. While suburbs tend to be more family-oriented, many young professionals prefer to live elsewhere, Bodea said.

“If you are a young professional and you’re not yet married and raising a family, we feel that the preference for such professionals is primarily for an urban environment such as Midtown,” he said.

After all the moves, Equifax reports that its One Atlantic Center in Midtown will have 500 employees with capacity for another 200 that it plans to hire. In 2018, it will add space for 90 more employees to keep up with growth.

Johnson said a second factor influencing companies’ urban moves is proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and alternate transportation. Companies interested in commute options could locate closer to MARTA and bike lanes, reducing their carbon footprint.

Employee transit options was one of the factors health care technology company athenahealth considered when it closed its Alpharetta office and moved to Ponce City Market in 2013,. A majority of employees live in the Perimeter, so many people now bike or walk to the office, said Todd Haedrich, vice president and general manager of small groups.

“We were able to create an environment that is very accessible to a large part of our employee population here,” Haedrich said.

In Alpharetta, athenahealth had just over 140 employees. Now, it has nearly 700 in its two floors at Ponce City Market.

Johnson of Invest Atlanta said companies also want to be close to research and development centers such as Georgia Tech, the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of Atlanta’s historically black colleges and universities. It even helps to locate close to research hospitals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All of that has an important role in the re-urbanization of the urban core,” Johnson said.

Equifax looked to Georgia Tech’s attractive labor force when locating their office, Bodea said. One Atlantic Center’s 100,000 square feet of space houses departments for data and analytics, software development and marketing.

Haedrich of athenahealth said the proximity of Emory University and Georgia Tech make Midtown an IT hub.

Though big companies’ moves make the news, Johnson said small companies also leave the suburbs. These firms usually have more specific places in mind, he said. Where a big company may say it wants to be in core Atlanta, a smaller one says it wants to be in West Midtown.

“They have the time to really understand who their workforce is because they’re looking for themselves. They know who they are and what they want and where they live, so it’s easy for them to identify where they want to do business,” Johnson said.

Haedrich said Midtown offers lots of retail, residential and restaurant options for employees. Since setting up there, athenahealth has expanded its workforce. The company plans to grow to about 1,000 employees by 2018, according to a January announcement from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.

“Choosing to be in Midtown and choosing the Ponce City Market location created an environment space that made us an attractive employer of choice in Atlanta,” Haedrich said.

Once the Sandy Springs office closes and new hires are done, Equifax will have more than 1,000 employees between One Atlantic Station and its headquarters on Peachtree Street, according to the company. It has another 1,575 in an Alpharetta office.

Bodea said Equifax wanted the flexibility of two different locations as employees’ lives shift.

“As their lifestyle changes over time, they may decide to move to the suburbs. I see that evolving over time,” he said. “Also, I could see how people who lived in the suburbs, whose children may have left for school, wanting to downsize and maybe move [to] Midtown. So that dynamic could play very well over time in a way that’s very attractive to us.”

July 27, 2017 - 2:19pm