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How’s That Move From the Suburbs to Downtown Working? Employers Weigh In.

November 11, 2019

The following article is from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal

While public safety issues downtown Minneapolis continues to be a concern, some of the companies that have moved to the city's core in recent years say they've been happy with their decision to leave the suburbs.

"We will never leave downtown. It has been phenomenal," said Toby Dayton, CEO of LinkUp, a job information data company that moved in 2015 from St. Louis Park to the Warehouse District, where it employs 45 people.

Dayton was speaking at a Minneapolis Downtown Council lunch panel this week along with leaders from ECMC Group Inc., RSM US and Newmark Knight Frank. The discussion comes at a time when Minneapolis is enjoying boom in luring companies in from the suburbs. A recent CBRE study said downtown and the North Loop have posted net gain of 1.4 million square feet of office tenants from outside downtown in the past six years.

The panel was moderated by Cresa Minneapolis broker Jim Vos, who cited a Downtown Council survey of 20 employers who made such moves recently. That unscientific survey found that relocated companies love downtown for its energy, access to labor and transportation options.

When companies were asked if they would recommend downtown to another employer, Vos said 60 percent gave an overwhelming yes.

"That's a Net Promoter score of over 60 percent, which is a stunning statistic," Vos said. "That is brand loyalty that any retailer would die for. So we are doing something right."

The biggest concerns those companies had were public safety and parking," Vos said.

Public safety has been a hot topic recently, with videos surfacing this fall showing groups of young men assaulting people and taking their cell phones. A recent Star Tribune story reported that year-over-year violent crime in Minneapolis is up in 2019 — though it's down from an average of the previous five years.

Dayton's LinkUp leases space in the Kickernick Building, which is at one of the most troublesome corners of downtown — First Avenue and Fifth Street.

"It's been a factor for us, and something to get used to — our people taking the bus who have to walk up to Marquette (Avenue), mostly when they are leaving at night," he said. "It is a little bit of perception issue, because most of that happens on Saturday night at 2 a.m. But when you open up the paper on Monday and there's been a shooting over the weekend a half-block from where you work … it's real. You can't ignore it. But you have to help people understand that we are not down there at 2 a.m. It's a balance to respect peoples' concerns and perceptions and the reality."

RSM recently signed a new lease to keep its 700-employee workforce at RSM Plaza at 801 Nicollet Ave. Staying was a no brainer for the accounting firm, said Jamie Woell, managing partner of RSM's Minneapolis office.

"We have a young workforce," he said. "We have 100 people start with us each year. Those are people coming out of college. They love the vibrance of downtown and they love the housing options." Still, Woell worries about violent crime.

"We have busier times in the year when we have young people working longer hours and I always think to myself, if something were to happen to one of our people … I feel responsibility toward that," he said.

ECMC made perhaps the most dramatic move of any downtown employer in recent years. The nonprofit education and finance company moved about 500 workers from the east metro suburb of Oakdale to downtown in 2016. ECMC, said Chief Human Resources Officer Sarah Strehl, had to take lots of time showing its workers how to use Metro Transit to get to and from work, since most of them were used to parking in a large surface lot for free.

One of her big concerns downtown is the large events that can sometimes create problems for employees who need to be back home for kids who are in school and daycare.

"With all the events and activities that happen in downtown that create that vibrancy, it does create a logistics nightmare for employees who work shifts," she said. "My request (to the city) is to communicate with the downtown employers so we can do as much as we can to prepare our employees."

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