Competition could be intense for Fiserv HQ

Commentary

Last updated on May 14th, 2019 at 12:03 am

Financial services software firm Fiserv Inc. recently acknowledged it is evaluating the future of its corporate headquarters in Brookfield.

“During the next few months, we’ll be looking at how we might evolve our headquarters environment in alignment with our broader workplace strategy, brand and associate experience,” said Fiserv spokeswoman Britt Zarling. “We are in the very early stages of our exploration.”

This is a big deal. Fiserv is a Fortune 500 company that has about 850 employees at its headquarters. Any community would be thrilled to have the company based there.

The situation raises a number of questions. The first, what are the chances that Fiserv will move its headquarters out of state? This is a global company with more than 120 locations around the world.

Fiserv is here because it was started here. Co-founder George Dalton ran Midland Bank’s First Data Processing subsidiary, and eventually he and other investors bought out the subsidiary, which then was merged with Sunshine State Systems, owned by Leslie Muma, forming Fiserv in 1984.

But today, Fiserv actually has a larger presence in Alpharetta, Georgia (near Atlanta), with about 1,600 employees as of 2016.

State and local officials, including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Milwaukee 7, need to do what they can, within reason, to keep Fiserv in Wisconsin.

A move to another state would be extremely disruptive to the lives of the Brookfield employees. That could help keep Fiserv here.

So the next question is, will Fiserv consider moving its headquarters to downtown Milwaukee?

Downtown has been hot in recent years, with numerous apartment and hotel developments, new restaurants, the new 32-story office tower at the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. headquarters campus and the new arena under construction for the Milwaukee Bucks. Several companies have moved downtown recently, including marketing firm Bader Rutter, which just relocated from Brookfield.

Downtown offers an exciting urban setting with numerous restaurants, bars, sports and cultural amenities. It is an atmosphere that appeals to many young professionals.

A common issue with moving downtown is it is less convenient for employees who have built their lives around the suburban workplace location.

These will be key considerations for Fiserv. The company needs to figure out its best option to attract and retain top talent. Move downtown to attract the younger future workforce, or stay in the suburbs to better satisfy existing employees and those who prefer the suburban lifestyle?

If Fiserv stays in the suburbs, will it stay in its current Brookfield location, move to a new building in Brookfield or move to another suburban community? The company owns its building at 255 Fiserv Drive, which is assessed at $21.2 million, according to county records. If the company relocates, what does it do with the building?

Brookfield provided $6 million in tax increment financing to help convince Milwaukee Tool to stay and expand its headquarters there. The state agreed to provide up to $18 million in income tax credits tied to job creation and capital investment.

Expect state and local officials, and real estate developers, to be similarly aggressive with the Fiserv deal.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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