Bingham McCutchen chief operating officer L. Tracee Whitley had never been to Lexington, Kentucky—or anywhere in the Bluegrass State, for that matter—when the firm first began to consider opening a new back-office operation in the city last year.
But as the months of planning wore on and the scheduled April opening of a global services center that will ultimately employ 250 people approached, Whitley realized that overseeing the new operation from Bingham’s Boston headquarters wouldn’t be practical. She needed to make the move south.
"It became clear to me this would be an important thing for me to do," Whitley said Thursday, referring to her decision to relocate to Lexington sometime this summer. "I wanted to show my full commitment both to the firm, and to Lexington, and to what we’re committing to as an organization."
Bingham’s decision to launch the new office at a cost of some $22.5 million has been greeted with palpable enthusiasm in Lexington, the hometown of the University of Kentucky and the state’s second-largest city. At a recent chamber of commerce dinner, for instance, the group’s outgoing chair called 855-lawyer Bingham’s announcement that it was Lexington-bound "the highlight of 2012," according to local press coverage. At a September press conference held on the heels of that announcement, a brass band greeted attendees before Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray took the podium to praise Bingham’s decision.
Local officials have celebrated the arrival of skilled jobs that are expected to pay $37 an hour, including benefits, in Bingham’s finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, marketing, and risk management departments. A January job fair attracted hundreds of high-quality applicants, according to Whitley.
To sweeten the deal for Bingham, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved $6.5 million in performance-based tax incentives, as well as another $1 million in loans and bonds. Business Lexington, which was first to report on Whitley’s relocation plans, has an in-depth look at how Lexington beat out 300 other cities in Bingham’s search.
Whitley declined Thursday to offer specifics on how many jobs the firm expects to fill with local candidates versus how many will be taken by current Bingham employees relocating from various other offices. She would only say that 10 percent of the affected employees have expressed interest in moving so far. Those who choose not to head south will receive severance packages and transition services, Whitley says. Most of the people in that camp will leave the firm by early June.
For her part, Whitley, 46, says that even though she will have a new home base, she plans to maintain the busy travel schedule that has her shuttling between Bingham’s 15 offices as often as two or three weeks a month. She also expects to spend plenty of time at the firm’s headquarters office. "I told Boston they won’t be able to get rid of me too easily," she says.
By consolidating its support staff in a less costly locale, Bingham is following the lead of several other Am Law firms that have made similar moves, including Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which consolidated some back-office operations in Wheeling, West Virginia; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, which did the same in Dayton; and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which set up shop in Nashville. Kaye Scholer hopped on the trend last month when it announced plans to move 100 jobs, mainly from New York, to Tallahassee.
Bingham isn’t the first firm to have high-level employees relocate to one of these new outposts. Pillsbury said in October 2011 that its chief financial officer, Sean Whelan, and its chief information officer, Martin Metz, would be moving to Nashville to help run that office. A Kaye Scholer spokeswoman said Thursday that the firm has not yet decided who will be moving to Florida.
Whitley, a North Carolina native, says that after 30 years in Boston, there is one aspect of life up north she doesn’t mind leaving behind: "I probably won’t miss two feet of snow."