Episode 33: Evoqua Upgrades Corporate Image with Move to Downtown Pittsburgh

November 27, 2017

Evoqua Water Technologies moved just 20 miles from suburban Warrendale, Pennsylvania to three-top floors of a 37-story corporate office building in the heart of Pittsburgh’s central business district. The company press release said it was all about tapping into the “vibrancy and energy” of downtown. But in the wake of the company’s rapid growth and a successful initial public offering, it was also about sending a message to employees, customers and the entire Pittsburgh region that Evoqua is a company on the move. To get the full story, we speak with Christopher Wild, Evoqua’s Global Corporate Real Estate Manager and Patty Horvatich, Vice President of Business Investment for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.

Patience Fairbrother (DCI): On November 1st, Evoqua Water Technologies held an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, listed under the name Aqua.

Andy Levine (DCI): Which if I think back to my high school Spanish class, which I did very poorly in, is the word for water. Yes?

Patience: Yes, that’s correct. You get a gold star, Andy.

Andy: Very good.

Patience: So it caps an exciting year of change for the Pittsburgh based company which also chose to move its corporate headquarters in 2017. Which of course from our perspective is much more exciting than an IPO.

Andy: The company moved just 20 miles from suburban Warrendale, Pennsylvania to 3 top floors of a 37-story corporate office building in the heart of Pittsburg’s central business district. The company press release said it was all about tapping into the vibrancy of energy of downtown. But it was also about sending a message to employees, to customers, and to the entire Pittsburgh region that Evoqua is a company on the move.

So welcome to episode 33 of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions. I’m Andy Levine of Development Counselors International.

Patience:
And I’m Patience Fairbrother, also with DCI, and Andy’s co-host of the project. So this week we bring you the story of Evoqua Water Technologies and it’s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters and 200+ employees to Pittsburgh’s central business district.

Andy: We’re going to start our story with Christopher Wild, he is the company’s Global Corporate Real Estate Manager and he managed the relocation project. We asked him to give us the elevator speech about Evoqua Water Technologies.

Chris Wild (Evoqua Water Technologies): Evoqua Water Technologies, we are the leading provider of comprehensive water solutions in North America. We provide systems, services, and technologies to almost 40,000 customers around the globe. We have a little over 4,000 employees worldwide.

Patience: The company was originally based in Atlanta when it was part of the German conglomerate, Siemens.

Chris: The company used to be  Siemens Water Technologies and was spun off in 2013, sold to AEA Investors. AEA appointed our CEO, Ron Keating to lead the company. Ron was given the discretion to move the company where he thought it would be best positioned for growth and he picked Pittsburgh. He chose to relocate the company to Warrendale because there we had a facility that was the former headquarters of US Filter.

Andy: But the company’s rapid growth was fast outpacing the Warrendale facility.

Chris: We realized we were quickly outgrowing our space. When we first moved to Warrendale in 2014, we had in around 100 people. By late 2016, we were closer to 190 people. So we’re just growing significantly. We knew we had an issue with capacity in Warrendale and the decision was really whether we would want to make significant capital investments into our building there, or, whether we’d want to move to what we thought was more of a proper headquarters.

Patience: As the company’s executive team debated the options and move from the suburbs to downtown Pittsburgh was gaining steam and advancing the company’s changing image had a lot to do with the decision.

Chris: Something that our executives have been communicating to our employees is this notion of Evoqua 2.0. Transforming the company and preparing it for, really, it’s next life cycle and, now, we felt we wanted to get something that’s a little more visible. We looked, we could have stayed up in the northern suburbs and, one of the terms that we talked about in the meetings was, do we want to be a sleepy, Warrendale based company or do we want to be part of the action? Part of the downtown scene? Part of Pittsburgh? We decided that we really wanted to be part of Pittsburgh so we really wanted to change everything.

Andy: Pittsburg’s downtown has gone through some dramatic changes in the past decade and has emerged as a hub for corporate headquarters. Here’s Patty Horvatich, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.

Patty Horvatich(Pittsburgh Regional Alliance) : We’ve changed. Our geography is often compared to a hub and spoke system with Downtown Pittsburgh or the Central Business District, being the hub, and having a hub and a spoke. That means a lot of the activity is here and we’ve been earning a lot of accolades lately: Tech Powerhouse, Culinary Wonderland. So there is a center of energy and activity and vibrancy in downtown that really can’t be compared to other places.

Andy: One of the changes that Patty spoke with us about was the change in the Pittsburgh skyline.

Patty: One of the things that amazes me, and others don’t get quite as excited as I do. But if you’re sitting at PNC Park on the North Shore and you look over at the Golden Triangle, you see a lot of nice buildings. Twenty years ago, no signage on any of those buildings. No corporate logos. Now you’re seeing who’s here. We look very much like a corporate center.

Andy: Evoqua was one of the companies that wanted their name on the building and it became an important issue in negotiating a lease.

Chris: I would say signage was extremely important. Getting our brand out there. I mean, that’s one of the things that we’ve taken on as a company. I mean, we talked before this call, Andy, about how do you pronounce Evoqua? Well, most people in Pittsburgh know that by now, I hope. And who is Evoqua? It’s one of the things that came along with our lease in Downtown Pittsburgh was we have branding. We have a very prominent sign on Liberty Avenue, one of the major thoroughfares in Downtown Pittsburgh. We have signage outside the entrance to the building, signage throughout, and we are a big company now in town. We are the, headquarters of clean water is in Pittsburgh, which is sort of ironic considering Pittsburgh’s past.

Patience: The company’s move to Downtown Pittsburgh also came with a change in the company’s culture.

Chris: We communicated that we were going to be moving to an open concept which a lot of companies are doing these days in an effort to have a better sense of collaboration within the company. So, there was a lot of anxiety at first when we were first talking about this with our employees, but over time, people began to get used to it. In Warrendale, we had 70 full height offices and downtown we have 10.

Patience: So it’s been an adjustment for many of Evoqua’s staff. Different commuting patterns for everyone and in many cases, they have had to say goodbye to private offices. But according to Chris, the early reviews have been very positive.

Chris: We really wanted to emphasize that this would be a place that employees can be proud of and people can come together and communicate and work together more effectively. It’s a different way to work, but everyone’s been very, very receptive to it and I think we’ve had a lot of positive comments on it.

Andy: So it sounds like what I’m hearing from you and I just want to make sure this is correct, Chris, you sort of used the real estate decision to advance a culture change or be a catalyst?

Chris: A hundred percent.

Patience: So Andy, we are up to the takeaways portion of the episode. You spoke with both Chris and Patty. What stood out to you in this episode?

Andy: So this was interesting, Patience. So I really expected to hear this was gonna be about talent, talent, talent. Something we’ve heard before in terms of a move from the suburbs to where they could attract Millenials, where they could get the next generation of talent. And that was part of the equation. But I think it was actually a secondary part of in this case. What the company was trying to do with this move was really upgrade their image. They wanted to provide their employees with a much, much better space to work in. They wanted to make this move to open space as well, so it’s a big change in that regard.

But they also wanted to say to the outside world, to their customers, to the general Pittsburgh community that like, “We’re a company that’s arrived. We’ve had an IPO, we’re fast growing, we’re the leader in water technologies in the world,” and it was an important moment for them. So I think in a way, this was really a project driven by upgrading the corporate image of Evoqua Water Technologies.

Patience: So that is a wrap on Episode 33 of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.

Andy: Our sincere thanks to Christopher Wild of Evoqua Water Technologies as well as Patty Horvatich of The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.

Patience: We also have to thank Phillip Cynar and Mike Henderson, also of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance who provided the right introductions and made these interviews happen. The Project is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.

Andy: We hope you’ll keep listening. There are many more projects to come.

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