Jersey or Philly: Which will Hill International choose?

Irvin Richter, who confessed to me that he's extremely susceptible to a good sales pitch, is now shopping for new office space for his company, Hill International Inc.  Or maybe he's trying to set up a duel on the Delaware riverfront -- Philly versus Jersey.

It came up, during our Leadership Agenda interview, when I asked him his opinion about the business climate in this region. Hill International, a construction consulting and project management company,  has 4,000 employees globally and about 200 in the area, split between headquarters in Marlton and a Philadelphia office.

Irv Richter, chairman and CEO of Hill International ( APRIL SAUL / Staff )

Q: What do you think the business climate is in this region?

A: We don’t like doing business in New Jersey. We find out that you are better off if you come outside the state. They give more work to non-Jersey firms. In fact, that’s one of the things driving us to leave New Jersey when our lease expires in June 2015.

Q: Where are you going to go?

A: Probably in the middle of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania has been good to us. We have a lot of people in Philadelphia. We have the 13th floor of the Graham building. We're looking at a couple of buildings, Comcast’s new building, we managed their last building and we’d like to manage this one. It’s up to them. 

Q: Is Jersey doing anything to keep you?

A: I don’t know. My son is handling that whole thing and he hasn’t said much about New Jersey calling us. This governor talks about jobs and I hope he means it. We’re part of a project that will hire 5,000 and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with the governor..

Q: Do you mean the project in Camden, where you are setting up a factory to build temporary shelters and other products and hope to hire 1,000?

A: In North Jersey. It's a Formula One track for Nascar. It has the New York skyline in the background.

Q: If that's even true, why do you think the state doesn’t want to give contracts to New Jersey businesses?

A: A lot of those people who make the selections want to go out and work for those companies outside of New Jersey.  They want to work for those firms later on and there’s very little prohibition [against that]. If your firm couldn’t do any business with the state if you hired one of their people away for five years, you’d see that end. If it’s like Maryland, that gives a preference to Maryland companies, you’d see that end. In San Francisco,  you get extra points if you are from San Francisco. If you are quality firm and you are from this state, and I don’t mean you just opened up an office in Cherry Hill just to bid the job that job, but you’ve been here and your corporate headquarters are here – [the New Jersey government] doesn't  seem to be concerned about that.

After our interview, Richter was leaving for Philadelphia, where he was about to be inducted in the Union League.

Q: What do you think of being a member of Union League?

A: I think it will be very valuable to us when we move to Philadelphia. But New Jersey could get its act together and give us a proposal that sounds attractive.

Q: What would such a proposal look like?

A; More than we get from Philadelphia

Q: Why do you have to get anything? (This was questioning why either government, or its taxpayers, should have to subsidize Hill's corporate move.

A: Because I’m going to take 150 people out of New Jersey. They aren’t going to pay taxes in New Jersey, they are going to pay taxes in Philadelphia. And we’ll leave 35,000 square feet that will lie fallow. They should care that we’re planning to leave Jersey. They’ll spend money to attract people. We pay state taxes and a lot of them because this is a our headquarters state. And New Jersey will lose it.

Tuesday: CEO faces a hefty challenge