Mayor Bill Purcell and Metro’s economic development office were not aware Verizon Wireless was considering establishing a regional headquarters and moving 550 jobs out of Davidson County to Franklin until after the company made the decision.
At least part of the reason Metro government was out of the loop on Verizon’s search for a new facility may have been the confidentiality of the site search secured by Partnership 2010, the public-private regional economic development arm of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“He (Purcell) would have loved the chance to engage with Verizon,” Purcell spokesperson Sandra Roberts said Monday.
Verizon Wireless announced last week that a $54 million regional headquarters would be established near Cool Springs in Franklin. When completed in 2008, the facility will have a capacity for 1,300 employees. The first workers to move into the new offices will be 550 employees currently working at Grassmere Office Park in Nashville.
Roberts and Tom Jurkovich, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, both said the mayor’s office didn’t know Verizon was interested in establishing a new facility or moving existing employees out of the area.
Jurkovich said in an e-mail Tuesday that while it’s “not the typical process” for businesses to conduct location searches without notifying local officials until after choices are made, “decisions sometimes unfold in this manner.”
For example, he said, Actus Lend Lease relocated to Davidson County from California in 2005 “after conducting an extensive national search” and “without involving city economic development officials.”
“Nashville city officials were not made aware that Verizon was looking for a state site until after the company announced the location,” Jurkovich said. “It happens occasionally that businesses conduct these searches in their own manner and in the strictest of confidence without notifying local officials until after the fact.”
Roberts pointed to Purcell’s economic development track record, maintaining that during Purcell’s administration Nashville secured more corporate headquarters and relocations than any other period in Metro’s history.
“The fact that they want to live in Williamson County is a compliment to Nashville and Davidson County,” Roberts said. “Nashville is the draw.”
Citing confidentiality limitations, Verizon Wireless spokesperson Sheryl Sellaway declined to comment on whether Davidson County — or any other area — was considered for the headquarters. She also declined to comment on whether the company had attempted to communicate with Metro government.
“For us, it’s a business decision that’s based on the best place to do business,” Sellaway said.
Franklin City Administrator Jay Johnson said he first learned of Verizon Wireless’s interest through Partnership 2010. He was contacted about the needs of a then-unnamed company early this year, and began discussions with Verizon Wireless “several months” ago.
Perri duGard Owens, vice president of marketing and communications for the Chamber, declined to discuss any possible involvement between Verizon Wireless and Partnership 2010, as the Partnership is “bound by confidentiality.”
She also declined to comment on the Partnership’s location identification process in general.
“It basically depends on what each situation entails,” Owens said.
A tax incentive may be extended to Verizon Wireless jointly by the City of Franklin and Williamson County, Johnson said. The plan is to offer a 40 percent tax abatement over the course of five years, up to a $500,000 cap, that was determined with consideration for the size of job creation and capital investment. Franklin and Williamson County governments must approve the plan.
But Johnson added that while the tax incentive was probably one factor Verizon took into consideration, the matter was “one of the last things” discussed. Availability of the site and infrastructure were higher on the list, as Verizon Wireless had a specific time frame to meet.
“We could make it happen there very quickly,” Johnson said.
Sellaway declined to comment on other Tennessee cities considered for the facility, also citing confidentiality limitations. But she did say the tax incentives offered by the City of Franklin and Williamson County were “just one” of the factors taken into consideration. The proposed regional headquarters location is close to Cool Springs, an area Verizon Wireless considered desirable to employees, and in a region where a large number of employees can be drawn from surrounding areas.
“There’s a mall, there’s shopping, there’s just a variety of different things in that area,” Sellaway said. “We’re just looking at the best place over all. We did a comprehensive look at the area to make the decision.”
Purcell and Jurkovich were apparently not the only regional economic development officials unaware of Verizon Wireless’s plans. Holly Sears, economic development director of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, said Rutherford County was “never contacted” by Verizon Wireless about establishment of the facility.
“I think it was a fairly well-kept secret,” Sears said. “The Nashville Chamber did a good job of securing confidentiality for the client.”
Verizon Wireless already has an 1,150-employee call center near Murfreesboro that will be unaffected by the development.
Roberts, Jurkovich, Sears and Johnson all said the establishment of the Verizon Wireless headquarters would be a boon for the region. According to Johnson, one of Verizon Wireless’s considerations for a site was availability of employees throughout the region.
“We did not see this as competing with Nashville,” Johnson said.
Sears credited the Chamber for succeeding in both retention and creation of regional jobs.
“It’s definitely a regional gain. It’s great for Rutherford County, too,” Sears said. “I think it’s a win-win. I think it’s a great testament to our economy in the mid-state.”