Walkable Downtowns Help Attract Employees

Hundreds of American companies have moved to or invested in walkable downtowns over the past five years, so Smart Growth America and commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield teamed up for a large-scale study on this market-transforming trend. The report examines the characteristics, motives, and preferences of companies that have relocated, opened new offices or expanded in walkable downtowns.

Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown,” used Cushman & Wakefield’s market data to identify nearly 500 companies that have made such a move in the past five years. Of those, Smart Growth America interviewed senior-level representatives from over 40 organizations to gain a better understanding of this emerging trend.

“The findings reveal an enormous diversity of businesses choosing to locate downtown,” said Cushman & Wakefield’s Paula Munger, director of business line research. “And the migration is happening across the country, in big cities and small CBDs, and in secondary markets within larger metropolitan areas from coast to coast.”

The study, also supported by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at the George Washington University School of Business, drills down to examine what kinds of companies have moved to or made new investments in downtowns, and asks those businesses what motivated them and what they looked for in their decision-making.

Credit: Cushman & Wakefield

The interviews revealed six common themes explaining why companies chose to locate downtown. These included:

  • Attracting and retaining talented workers,
  • Building brand identity and company culture,
  • Supporting creative collaboration,
  • Gaining proximity to customers and business partners,
  • Centralizing operations, and
  • Supporting triple-bottom line business outcomes.

Regarding what companies looked for when choosing a new location, many interviewees said they chose vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where people want to live as well as work. A variety of transportation options, the right office space, a warm welcome from the city, and a clean and safe environment also factored in.

“These companies chose a walkable downtown location to help them better compete for talent and resources,” said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “That tells us two things. First, that creating these kinds of places is a crucial economic development strategy for cities. And second, that companies which haven’t considered a walkable location may be at risk of falling behind.”

“This study sheds light on strategies that can help companies and the cities they work in thrive for decades to come,” Munger said. According to Cushman & Wakefield’s latest urban development report, city governments, developers and businesses that partner to enhance the overall experience of urban life; keep pace with population surges; reduce commute times; and attract millennial talent, will strengthen their positions as world-class cities.

Core Values provides an opportunity for corporate leaders to think about their locations in new ways, and for municipal leaders to examine strategies for attracting new employers and growing their economic bases. Click here for the full report.