As the pioneers of a movement to reinvest in a distressed downtown Allentown, National Penn Bancshares Inc. was the first company to move into a new building in the city a little more than a year ago.
The gamble paid off.
Allentown introduced the financial incentives offered through the Neighborhood Improvement Zone several years ago – but to some it appeared to be risky. National Penn, though, seized the opportunity and in March 2014 opened new corporate headquarters at Two City Center, an 11-story office tower at the corner of Seventh and Hamilton streets in the downtown.
Today, the bank's leader said it was the right move at the right time.
“This was part of an overall corporate relocation strategy,” said Scott Fainor, president and CEO of National Penn Bancshares Inc. “We feel great about all the strategic moves we've made.”
The bank is pleased with the facility, noting that the centralized location offers opportunities for increased teamwork and collaboration.
The employees like the new home and feel safe in the urban environment.
National Penn retained its Berks County presence at its former headquarters in Boyertown and built a new facility in Spring Township. The result is an overall boost to employment figures from its relocation plan.
The ancillary impact on Allentown has been positive for other businesses, as well as leading the way for what to date has been $1 billion in new and planned investment in office, retail and residential projects in the downtown.
“It's all worked out really well,” said Fainor, an Allentown native. “There is more activity that is creating more of a contagious feeling.”
For Fainor, the headquarters move to Allentown also makes it easier to conduct business in one building.
Now if there is a problem, he just has to go to a different floor, rather than travel to another office building.
“When we moved to these buildings, we also got rid of a lot of smaller buildings in remote areas,” Fainor said. “It enhances communication, employee collaboration.”
Customer service has increased and more employees know one another as a result, creating a synergy throughout the company, he said.
Downtown Allentown has had the perception of being unsafe. That, however, has not been an issue, according to Fainor.
The Linden Street parking deck behind Two City Center is used by National Penn employees and is very secure and well-lit, he said.
“I think in the beginning, what happens is people have to get used to coming downtown and where they are working,” Fainor said.
“Every day, every week, every month, it's just gotten better.”
As part of its relocation strategy, National Penn also renovated the former site of its headquarters in Boyertown and put up a new building in Spring Township near Wyomissing. National Penn committed to 150 employees in Boyertown and 125 in Spring Township, as well as 275 in its new Allentown home.
The Spring Township site is the bank's new Reading Area Business Center, which opened in April 2014 and which includes commercial, retail, finance and operations teams.
Today, the company has about 165 employees in Boyertown, 140 in Spring Township and 300 in Allentown.
Meanwhile, National Penn late last year acquired TF Financial Corp. (parent company of 3rd Fed Bank), based in Newtown. Some of those 3rd Fed employees went to the three National Penn locations.
“We have exceeded our employee numbers,” Fainor said.
National Penn employees often walk on Hamilton Street, patronizing the area's restaurants and the arena at PPL Center across the street and going to shows and the nearby art museum.
The activity level of the bank's volunteerism and community involvement with raising money and participation has increased since its relocation, including its volunteer work with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and March of Dimes organizations.
And the success of National Penn has been noticed. City Center Investment Corp., the primary driver of development in the downtown, in particular has continued to announce plans for new projects.
The success of the NIZ, which fueled National Penn's relocation, also has caught the attention of developers in the city's nearby waterfront area, and that locale, too, is now on its way toward redevelopment.
National Penn isn't finished with its growth, as Fainor said it has room to expand, either at its new headquarters or elsewhere.
“Whatever we need to continue to expand, we are going to continue to analyze and investigate,” Fainor said. “National Penn is continuing to look to grow through acquisition. We are a very strong company financially. We are very disciplined. We don't need to rush it. We'll just continue to keep attacking the market.”
The community leaders in Berks also appear pleased that National Penn not only has retained but added workers in the county.
“We have slightly more employees down there in Berks,” Fainor said. “What we said we were going to do, we delivered on and then some.”