Northwestern Mutual is leaving its Franklin campus on the edge of Milwaukee in Wisconsin as part of a $500 million project to relocate to a downtown Milwaukee office building.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this has been in part motivated by the company no longer needing its on-premise data center.

– Getty Images

The Journal Sentinel quoted Steve Radke, vice president of government and community relations for Northwestern Mutual as saying: “Several of the driving factors that led us to Franklin [are] no longer relevant for us today as they were 20 years ago,” and added that the company claims cloud computing has reduced its need for a separate data center.

Northwestern Mutual first moved into the Franklin campus in 2001 to disperse the company’s ‘concentration of talent’, and because Franklin was a desirable location for the company’s data center. The campus, at West Drexel Avenue and South 27th Street, reportedly totals 880,000 square feet (81,755 sqm) of offices in two buildings and 16 undeveloped acres.

However, like many companies, Northwestern Mutual found that during the pandemic the company had to switch to remote working which accordingly reduced the risk of talent concentration and changed the company’s IT needs.

DCD reached out to Northwestern Mutual for more information on the Franklin data center and whether an on-premise data center would be at the new campus, but the company declined to comment.

The move to Milwaukee, expected to be completed by 2027, will see 2,000 jobs leaving the Franklin campus, and Northwestern Mutual has called for city support in its $500m renovation places for the downtown office building. The company will also be exiting two other office buildings in the Milwaukee County municipality.

Once the downtown Milwaukee ‘North building’ is refurbished, there should be room for 9,000 employees to be based there. In total, Northwestern Mutual has ~8,300 employees across the US. Pending approval for a $30 million incentive package by Milwaukee officials, the renovation could occur in Q3 of 2023.

The $30m incentive package depends on Northwestern Mutual maintaining a Downtown employee count of 5,750, starting in 2030. The company currently has 4,480 employees in the city, 3,958 of which are at the downtown campus. An additional 229 employees work remotely, but reside in Milwaukee.

The refurbishment of the downtown office will add 80,000 sq ft (7,430 sqm) of office space to the current 540,000 sq ft (50,170 sqm) by expanding floor plates and converting mechanical rooms. Once the Franklin campus is closed, Northwestern will have reduced its footprint by over half.

Northwestern Mutual chairman, president, and chief executive officer John Schlifske said the company is consolidating to encourage collaboration and attendance in the office, versus working remotely. He said the proposed project “nurtures both the culture and the attractiveness of return to campus.”

The Franklin Campus will eventually be added to the company’s $10 billion investment real estate portfolio and sold or leased out to a new company. The campus offers 880,000 sq ft (81,750 sqm) of office/building space, plus an additional 16 acres of land. The site is also located on the Interstate 94 corridor.

Jim Paetsch, Milwaukee 7 executive director and a private-sector lead on regional business-attraction efforts, said: “I suspect that property is going to be attractive for all different sorts of uses.”

“We certainly will think about it as an asset for how do we bring a large office user to the market. Maybe it’s another financial services company. Maybe it’s a company that has (research and development).”

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