Firm weighs move to city

Publisher John Wiley considers relocating world headquarters

Prospect of 900 jobs

N.Y. lease expiring, officials reportedly look at several cities

August 17, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Publishing house John Wiley & Sons Inc. is considering relocating its world headquarters and roughly 900 jobs from New York to downtown, a move that would be among the largest corporate relocations in Baltimore history.

The publishing house is contemplating a move that would come in 2003, when its present lease at 605 Third Ave. in New York expires, sources said.

Although a list of specific sites in Baltimore has not been finalized, John Wiley is studying proposed buildings at 1 Light St. and Inner Harbor East, sources said.

The company will require about 300,000 square feet of office space, roughly equivalent to the 25-story Charles Center South at 36 S. Charles St.

"We're looking at a number of different options," said Susan Spilka, a John Wiley spokeswoman. "It's a preliminary exploration."

John Wiley, a publicly traded company with $508 million in sales in fiscal 1999, is expected to make a decision on whether it will pursue relocating by the end of the year.

In addition to remaining in New York, the company also is considering other cities, sources said.

It could not be determined which other cities the company is evaluating.

John Wiley is a global publisher of educational, scientific, medical, technical and consumer books and journals in print and online. It is working to have the nearly 460 journals it prints available electronically.

Its titles range from the arcane European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry to The New Professional Chef to "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke: The Life and Leadership of Roberto Goizueta."

John Wiley's potential move comes at a time of steady growth for the company, which was founded in a bookstore in 1807. Although Wiley family members still control about 19 percent of the company and Chairman Bradford Wiley II is a sixth-generation company executive, ownership in recent years has expanded.

Today, a group comprising the wealthy Bass family of Texas owns just over 13 percent of the company.

John Wiley is studying relocation options now because of the time required to build new office space and shift hundreds of employees and other logistics.

John Wiley would become the largest publicly traded firm to relocate to Baltimore since 1995, when Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. moved its headquarters and 250 jobs to Inner Harbor East from Columbia. Since then, the tutoring and educational assistance company has more than doubled its work force.

Sylvan's relocation marked the first time in almost two decades that an established publicly held company had moved its headquarters to Baltimore. Prior to Sylvan, the last public company to move downtown was the Adams Express Co., which in 1976 shifted a 24-employee headquarters operation from New York.

On a salary scale, John Wiley's relocation could have even more of an impact than Sylvan's. Its jobs pay an average of $55,000 a year, sources said.

"The psychology of achieving victory with a prospect like that would be felt throughout the real estate and economic development communities," said Timothy J. Cahill, senior managing director for the Baltimore/Washington region for commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis.

"We're not on a level playing field with neighboring states in terms of procuring new jobs," Cahill said.

"The impact in terms of salaries that are brought with headquarters operations dwarf the salaries and revenues generated or attributed to a branch operation, and so many times, we are perceived to be a branch kind of town."

John Wiley's potential move here would also be seen as a victory because it would come as some of Baltimore's biggest business stalwarts -- Alex. Brown Inc., MNC Financial Inc., USF&G Corp. -- have been acquired by out-of-town owners and lost local control.

State economic development officials and others involved in the courting process declined to discuss the possible relocation.

"I am deeply concerned that the premature release of this opportunity could have an adverse impact on its outcome, an outcome that could be significant," said Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development agency.

"I can't confirm or deny who we are working with," said Keith Watkins, vice president of corporate locations of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a nonprofit economic development group that has been working to lure John Wiley.

In its 1999 fiscal year, which ded April 30, John Wiley generated a 48 percent increase in its annual net income, to $39.7 million. The company's revenue for the year totaled $508.4 million, a 9 percent gain over the same period a year earlier.

In comparison to its 1995 earnings, John Wiley's net income in its 1999 fiscal year was up 53.5 percent, its revenue was up 117 percent, and its assets had more than doubled, to $528.5 million.

In all, the publisher has 2,100 employees.

At least part of its growth has come from acquisitions. Most recently, John Wiley spent $82 million in cash to buy San Francisco-based publisher Jossey Bass in June.

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