The number of publicly traded companies that call the Triangle home – a source of well-paying jobs, bragging rights and much more – has taken a major hit in recent months.
Since late December four local companies – The Pantry, Salix Pharmaceuticals, Square 1 Bank and Stock Building Supply – announced they were being acquired or were merging. The result is that the headquarters of the combined businesses are now, or soon will be, located elsewhere.
Those deals are part of a wave of consolidation fueled by a vibrant stock market and inexpensive, readily available debt.
“M&A (mergers and acquisitions) is certainly in play for a lot of corporations right now,” said Jeff Barber, a managing director at investment bank Fennebresque & Co.
It’s a trend that has cost hundreds of Triangle workers their jobs.
Salix laid off the vast majority of the workers at its North Raleigh headquarters, 258 employees, when Canadian drugmaker Valeant Pharmaceuticals completed its $11.1 billion acquisition of the company. The Pantry, a Fortune 500 company, began laying off 250 workers at its headquarters in Cary and in Sanford, roughly half its Triangle workforce, the day that Canadian convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard closed on the $860 million deal.
The deals involving Square 1 and Stock haven’t yet closed, and the impact on jobs locally remains unclear. However, both businesses will maintain a presence here.
But the impact, economic and otherwise, of losing a headquarters extends beyond any short-term effects on jobs.
Economic developers, when recruiting other companies, stress headquarters operations as a selling point for the region.
“It gives you bragging rights to say we have a Fortune 500 company based here,” said Ken Atkins, director of economic development at the Kirpatrick Townsend law firm in Raleigh. Following the departure of Salix, the Triangle is home to just one Fortune 500 company, Quintiles.
“When you have a headquarters operation,” said Atkins, who headed Wake County’s economic development efforts for more than 16 years, “what it says about your community is that you have all the support structure needed for someone to operate a headquarters. You have sophisticated support service providers, such as accountants, lawyers.”
Below the surface
By that same token, when a company headquartered in the Triangle is acquired, the business previously allocated to Triangle service providers also tends to move elsewhere.
“It’s clear, when we lose these headquarters, revenue comes out of the marketplace here,” said Barber, a former head of the Raleigh office of accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. “You might not see it looking with the naked eye … it is really below the surface.”
Headquarters operations also are a vital source of philanthropy – both dollars and corporate executives.
“Companies give where they live and where their headquarters are,” Barber said. “That’s where their CEO lives and where their corporate officers are.”
Still, although the loss of these headquarters is undeniably a minus, it’s not an insurmountable one.
“I don’t think this is a big negative for Raleigh,” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden. “We have so many good things going for us. … This area is going to continue to boom.”
That’s good news for workers who have lost their jobs as a result of these deals.
“If you’re going to be unemployed, this is probably one of the best places in the country to be unemployed,” Walden said. “That’s not to minimize the trauma of being unemployed.”
Christopher Chung, the state’s top jobs recruiter, stressed that the Triangle lost these headquarters as a result of the ebb and flow of corporate transactions, not because these companies chose to leave.
“Acquisitions and mergers happen all the time in this economy,” said Chung, the CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. “Sometimes states and regions will be on the winning end. Other times they will not be on the winning end.”
Chung said he is “very confident” that, over the long haul, the Triangle and the state will gain more headquarters operations than they lose.
The last time a high-profile company headquartered in the region let it be known that it was exploring the possibility of moving elsewhere, the Triangle won out. That was in 2011, when Red Hat decided to remain here after considering Atlanta, Austin, Tex., and other possible sites. Today Red Hat has about 1,200 workers in downtown Raleigh.
Adrienne Cole, executive director of Wake County Economic Development, the business recruiting arm of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, notes that the Triangle also has registered some headquarters wins recently.
In late April CBC Americas, the American subsidiary of a Japanese conglomerate, announced it was shifting its headquarters from New York to Wake County – creating about 100 new jobs in the process. And last year Merz Pharma Group, a German company, announced it would bring 250 jobs and its North American headquarters to Raleigh.
“I think we’re going to continue to see some of that,” Cole said.
Neither CBC Americas nor Merz are corporate headquarters per se. Rather, they are the American headquarters of overseas companies, which is not unusual in the Triangle.
This region has never been considered a corporate headquarters stronghold, but it has amassed an impressive list of overseas companies that have established a headquarters of some sort – such as a North American headquarters or the worldwide headquarters for a division – each employing hundreds, if not thousands, of workers.
Among them are GlaxoSmithKline, Syngenta, Bayer Crop Science, ABB, BASF and Novozymes.
The Triangle also has prospered by recruiting companies that are based elsewhere but are eager to tap into the region’s talented technology workers. That lengthy list includes corporate giants such as MetLife, Credit Suisse, Fidelity Investments and Deutsche Bank.
Attorney Don Reynolds of Raleigh law firm Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton also sees some silver linings in the cloud of recent headquarters losses – including a flurry of new startups from former employees of the acquired companies.
“These are people who have successfully grown a business,” Reynolds said. “Guess what they are going to do again.”
Salix has long been a Wyrick Robbins client. Although Reynolds, citing client confidentiality, declined to comment on his firm’s relationship with Salix now that it has been acquired, he noted that there have been instances in the past where the acquisition of a client ultimately led to new business.
For example, Medic Computer was a Wyrick Robbins client before it was sold for $923 million in 1997. When John McConnell, the co-founder and CEO of Medic, moved on to other ventures – A4 Health Systems and McConnell Golf, which today is the largest owner of private golf clubs in the Carolinas – Wyrick Robbins landed both those businesses as clients.
In addition, some acquisitions can end up being a boon to the Triangle.
When business software company Citrix Systems announced it was acquiring startup ShareFile in 2011, ShareFile had 100 employees at its Raleigh headquarters.
Citrix then proceeded to go on a hiring spree for its Raleigh office, expanding to 600 workers today, and the sparkling new offices it opened last year have injected new life into Raleigh’s Warehouse District.