No Need to Attack Pulte for Moving to Atlanta

June 03, 2013, 12:31 AM by  Doron Levin


No one need get angry or indignant over the announcement by Pulte Group that it is moving its headquarters to Atlanta. A disappointed farewell is much classier.

Calling out Pulte, one of the nation’s biggest homebuilders, for making a rational business decision reveals Michigan’s own tattered self esteem as it struggles to remake itself into a business-friendly state.  Most national residential builders are located in the Sun Belt because – sorry, fellow Michiganders – that’s where the growth is.

Companies, just like people, are free to decide where they want to live.  Guilt trips, pressure, name calling – they’re beside the point and unworthy of those who use them.

The only reason Pulte has been in Bloomfield Hills for so many years is because Bill Pulte founded it there in 1950. No Pultes have worked for the company since 2010; and the family no longer owns a controlling stake. 

A friend who works for another big builder, Miami-based Lennar, explained that Pulte probably will save a lot just in transportation costs by being closer to its operations.

Companies Come and Go

Besides, Pulte headquarters accounts for about 300 jobs – will their loss make much difference in a state economy that currently has about 4 million jobs? Companies are born and die all the time. They’re arriving, and they’re leaving. Growing and shrinking. What matters is the aggregate.

Toll Brothers, another big player, is located outside Philadelphia.  Why? Because that’s where Robert and Bruce Toll founded it in 1967. The founders have retired from management. Chairman Robert Toll now is in Miami, according to its website.  Some day, Toll Brothers could decide to move headquarters closer to operations in Arizona, California or Florida.  If they do, I doubt there will be whining in Harrisburg, Pa. 

In early 2007 Comerica provoked a great deal of teeth-gnashing and rending of garments among Michiganders when it decided to move its headquarters to Dallas.  Comerica’s rationale was to move closer to growth markets in the Sun Belt and thereby gain enough size and heft to avoid being devoured by Chase, Wells Fargo or another bigger bank.

Comerica has remained independent and continues to be a major Southeast Michigan employer.  Whether the bank ultimately made a good decision, whether it will remain independent, will be the legacy of Ralph Babb and his management team -- including the bank holding company’s board.

Since the beginning of 2007, Comerica’s stock has performed dismally, recording a 32-percent decline, compared to a 15.5-percent increase for the S&P 500 and a 15-percent gain for JP Morgan Chase, which has become more prominent in Detroit.

Rooting for Comerica and Pulte

I’m rooting for Comerica to turn things around and become another big national – as opposed to regional – bank.  As such, it will be a stronger employer in Detroit and elsewhere. If Comerica’s strategy fails, the blame will be properly placed on the management and board.  Second-guessing what might have happened if Comerica had kept its headquarters in downtown Detroit won’t make a bit of difference.

I’m also rooting for Pulte to prosper.  It’s a proud name that still does business in Michigan and has 54 employees at operations in Oakland County. The Pulte family still belongs to our community, and is seeking solutions to blight in Detroit.

Michigan already has too much fighting, finger-pointing and acrimony; it doesn’t need more.

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