Over the last summer, I was in Chicago talking to clients when someone mentioned that McDonald's was moving its headquarters from Oak Brook, a Chicago suburb 20 miles out, to downtown Chicago. When I asked why, they said that no one wanted to go out there to work.
I thought that was kind of remarkable. A company as storied as McDonald's with $25 billion in revenue in 2015 is making a huge move so that they can get people, at least the ones they want, to work there. McDonald's has been having some softening in their business and are working hard to reinvent their menu in a more health-conscious world. They now see that they need a new generation of employees to come in to help with that reinvention.
This new generation of employees, as we have noted, see their work as an extension of their lifestyle. If they live downtown, they don't want a 40-minute commute and will find somewhere else to work. Many major corporations are moving to the city — and some are doing it with purpose. In 2010, Quicken moved its headquarters to downtown Detroit because they "wanted to be part of its revitalization", and so did its people. They could say that they were part of the revitalization of a great American city.
Companies aren't moving to cut costs or for some sweet tax deal. They are moving because they need to be a place where people want to work. They are moving in order to maximize their most valuable asset - their people.
They are moving because their employer-brand is becoming something of real value and something in which to invest.