Wall Street finance firm AllianceBernstein talks about why Nashville landed its corporate HQ — after not being among the 30 cities first considered – Nashville Business Journal
Roughly one year ago, the executives perched at the 50-story Manhattan headquarters of investment firm AllianceBernstein listed 30 U.S. cities they would scout for a lower-cost place where they would shift some jobs.
Nashville was not on that list. And, at the time, the company was not considering moving its headquarters, which had been in New York since its founding 50 years prior.
The situation was radically different on May 2, when AllianceBernstein’s top brass joined government and chamber officials in the state Capitol. At the mic, they heralded AllianceBernstein’s (NYSE: AB) decision to move its corporate headquarters to downtown Nashville. The company intends to have 1,050 jobs in Nashville by the end of 2022. If all those workers were here right now, AllianceBernstein would be one of the five biggest private employers downtown. The average salary of those jobs will be between $150,000 and $200,000, the company said — with bonuses and other compensation pushing that dollar amount even higher. The company is investing $70 million in its move and needs more than 200,000 square feet of office space, giving it the potential to kickstart any of a few office towers on the drawing board in the central business district.
State and local officials see even more significance in AllianceBernstein’s arrival. They believe a company of this scale and caliber will serve as a gateway that puts Nashville in contention to compete for other economic development deals that the area hadn’t previously — similar to the perceived effect of Amazon.com Inc. including Nashville among the 20 North American cities it’s considering for its own massive second headquarters. Mayor David Briley recalled that Nashville was once seen as the "Wall Street of the South," a mantle that has shifted to Charlotte and Atlanta as the banking industry has evolved. For both Amazon and AllianceBernstein, Nashville topped Charlotte, which did not make Amazon’s shortlist and had been a finalist for the AllianceBernstein headquarters, according to multiple sources.
"It’s hard for me to overstate how important this is," said Gov. Bill Haslam. "This opens up an entirely new type of company that would locate here. This is not someone’s back-office operations. We love those, by the way. This is a global headquarters."
AllianceBernstein will be receiving incentives from the state, Metro and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Government officials declined to disclose specifics, saying the arrangements had not yet been formally approved. State law shields such information from becoming public record until that point.
Company president and CEO Seth Bernstein, who came to AllianceBernstein in a shake-up one year ago, listed a number of factors that made Nashville the "clear winner … by every metric we analyzed."
"Moving our corporate headquarters allows us to offer advantages to our employees that we just simply couldn’t do in the New York City metropolitan area: a more affordable cost of living, lower taxes and housing costs, a high quality of life — including much shorter commuting times for many of our people — and a brand-new, state-of-the-art work environment," said Bernstein, who noted that his son attended college here.
"No other city could compete," Bernstein added. "I see Nashville as a game-changer for [AllianceBernstein] … increasing our competitive edge in what is an increasingly challenging marketplace."
AllianceBernstein has about $550 billion of assets under management and 3,500 employees worldwide. About 30 percent of those jobs are coming to Nashville, in at least eight fields, ranging from finance and IT to lawyers and auditors.
Ranked by Employees, full time equivalent 2017
Rank Name Employees, full time equivalent 2017 1 State of Tennessee 25,777 2 Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt 20,428 3 U.S. Government 13,148 View This List
Bernstein and some other members of the company’s leadership will relocate to Nashville. AllianceBernstein is maintaining a New York City office for certain functions, including wealth management.
Notably, among other shout-outs Bernstein gave was one for Williamson Inc., the combined chamber of commerce and economic development agency of Williamson County. Even though the company made clear its headquarters will be in downtown Nashville, multiple Williamson Inc. officials were present for the announcement — a sign of the role that the county’s esteemed school system and stock of executive housing likely contributed to AllianceBernstein’s decision-making.
It’s likely that it won’t just be the housing market that will notice the arrival of AllianceBernstein’s workers in the years to come. One reason civic and chamber leaders covet headquarters is because it means a company’s senior leadership is rooted in the local community, which affects philanthropic and nonprofit support. Bernstein said he wanted his company to become a "vital" part of the region, and government officials made multiple references to AllianceBernstein’s existing charitable contributions.
"This is a big decision for us. We’ve been in New York for 50 years," said Jim Gingrich, the company’s chief operating officer. Part of our evaluation was not just what Tennessee and Nashville were today, but what we think Nashville would be in 10, 20, 30 years. We thought this is a unique environment that was very business-friendly, and one that we wanted to be a part of."
Gingrich said AllianceBernstein didn’t initially intend to uproot its corporate headquarters. "We became increasingly convinced that to create the right type of environment to attract the very best people, and establish the type of culture that is so important, that there needed to be senior-management people in the company taking that lead," he said.