Con-way development will help attract workers

Con-way development will help attract workers
J. Craig Boretz, vice president for development Con-way, wants the company’s great location to keep and attract employees well into the future. (Photo by Cathy Cheney, The Portland Business Journal)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Con-way Enterprises Inc. employs more than 800 people in a pair of Class A offices sandwiched between two of Portland’s most desirable neighborhoods — Northwest 23rd to one side and the Pearl District to the other.

J. Craig Boretz, vice president for development for the $5 billion transportation giant, wants Con-way’s great location to keep and attract employees well into the future.

Con-way’s redevelopment vision for its massive Northwest campus is no secret. The company has long toyed with ways to make use of its 16-block, 20-acre campus, swathed in parking lots. It considered selling it, then redeveloping.

Now, after two years of planning, Con-way has the city’s blessing for its master plan. The document, approved in August, lays out development standards, building density and zoning.

Its first development partner, C.E. John Co. Inc., is expected to break ground on a grocery-anchored residential project in early 2013, becoming the first in a decades-long series of projects that could transform Northwest Portland.

The debut project will include a 30,000-square-foot grocery and a 150- to 200-unit apartment complex.

Monday, Boretz shared Con-way’s current thinking about the property it has owned and occupied for over eight decades.

Two years ago, when it revisited its plan, Con-way was direct: It wanted to tap into the value of its real estate to benefit its shareholders.

That’s not a driving force any more. Today, the company is sensitive to the role location and amenities play in attracting talented employees. With more than 800, that’s a big issue. Though based in San Mateo, Calif., Con-way houses a sizable portion of its corporate operations in Northwest Portland.

“We want to control what happens. This is our home. We live here. We want to build around us a community that will attract the best and brightest employees we can,” he said.

Con-way is hardly alone. To recruit talent — particularly young tech-savvy talent — Portland employers compete with well-appointed offices in desirable areas. That translates to offices on transit lines with food carts handy at lunch time and an abundance of residential choices.

It’s a common refrain these days. Most recently, New Relic Inc., a San Francisco-based software firm with an engineering unit in Portland, said it would move to a 20,000-square-foot suite at U.S. Bancorp Tower, 111 S.W. Fifth Ave. It selected the building for its downtown location, proximity to food carts and its landlord’s willingness to entertain bike parking and a creative office design.

Boretz said Con-way has a large IT department in Portland. The company is competitive on wages and considers its location a winning advantage in the competition for the best employees.

But, Boretz said, Con-way’s workforce is older than average and turnover is a consideration.
Con-way will profit from the redevelopment by engaging developers such as C.E. John who want to create a new community in

Northwest Portland. But Boretz said that isn’t the company’s prime consideration.

“The cash we get from this is not really material to our balance sheet. We are a $5 billion company with almost $500 million in cash in the bank."

The Portland Business Journal is a KATU News partner.