The Equity Factor

Urban Outfitters Bringing 2,000 More Office Jobs to Philadelphia

Urban Outfitters, your local one-stop shop for cat-themed housewares and flannel shirts, is bringing another 2,000 jobs to Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley announced Monday that the company, which was founded in the University City neighborhood, will expand its operations in the city.

The retail magnate — in addition to the flagship, it has Anthropologie, Free People, BHLDN and Terrain — set up shop at the 1,200-acre Navy Yard in 2006 with 650 employees and plenty of room to grow. By 2011, when it announced an $80 million expansion, it had 1,300 employees at its corporate campus on the waterfront. Now it’s set to roll out this new massive expansion, for which it will be eligible to receive reduced or eliminated state and local taxes as part of a Keystone Opportunity Zone.

Urban Outfitters isn’t an anchor institution, but it’s nice to see a local company stay in Philly, rather than open up a satellite office with 2,000 jobs in Midtown Manhattan. (Though some might argue that’s where a fashion or retail company should set its sights.) Yesterday’s announced deal will double the staff in Philly, with another 500 jobs at a distribution center in nearby Lancaster County, Pa..

That’s a lot of jobs, so I emailed an Urban Outfitters spokesperson, who was a bit cagey about the whole situation. Asked what range of jobs might be offered — entry-level gigs, higher-ranking positions or a combination of both — she simply replied, “Office jobs.” On whether or not the announced expansion would mean a physical expansion and short-term construction jobs? “Yes.”

Asked to elaborate on if she knew what range in pay or skill-level the jobs might be, or how many jobs might come with construction, she offered, “No comment on either of those.” Which is not to imply that there is something shady going on behind the scenes — 2,000 jobs are 2,000 jobs. But details on whether any of those gigs are outside the knowledge economy are scant.

Urban Outfitters isn’t the only game in town, though. “Urban Outfitters surely represents the most dynamic example of the kinds of private development and investment that is occurring at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but numerous other projects are also underway,” Will Agate, senior vice president of management and development at the Navy Yard, wrote in an email.

More than 130 organizations — from Urban Outfitters to non-profits to educational institutions — employ more than 10,000 people on these 1,200 repurposed acres at the very southern end of South Philly. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline established its North American headquarters in the Navy Yard this past February with more than 1,300 employees in a 208,000-square-foot, LEED platinum-certified building. There is a “pending” groundbreaking for another 84,00-square-foot office, fully leased by Franklin Square Capital Partners, later this month.

Urban’s commitments aren’t just at the Navy Yard. Parent company URBN announced plans last week for a “lifestyle village” in Devon, Pa. (We don’t know what “lifestyle village” means, either, but we’re assuming there will be lots of coffee table books.) It sounds like a fancy word for a strip mall, but has designs on giving Devon some sort of walkable urban center near its train station with stores, restaurants — both fine-dining and mid-level — a spa facility and a boutique hotel.

Not to beat a dead drum, but yesterday’s announcement means 2,000 more jobs for Philadelphia. So good on Urban Outfitters for staying invested in its hometown, even if its won’t tell us the extent of this big new investment.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

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