MAUREEN CAMPBELL – ‘A whole lifestyle’

With New Haven’s growing biotechnology market has come an influx of additional workers to the city, many of whom are taking advantage of relocation services to find a new home.

During the first quarter of this year, New Haven saw the war with Iraq and the sluggish economy have an effect on the relocation market. However, in recent days the activity has picked up, and those companies that had been holding back for the first quarter have been calling on the Relocation Department at H. Pearce Realty Co. to bring in candidates again.

Maureen Campbell, vice president of corporate and relocation services at H. Pearce, said New Haven has seen a growing emergence of companies over the last decade, many of which are “incubator” companies spun off from Yale University.

“These companies seem to be capitalizing on the fact that we already have Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squib, and Bayer, making New Haven a real hub for the biotech industry,” said Campbell, who is based in North Haven. “We’re starting to see a lot of these companies take off, which is really exciting.”

While many of those firms started their operation at the Science Park at Yale, a facility that is currently being renovated to create more biotechnology space, more developments are being built in the city and still others are being fitted to meet the needs of biotech companies.

Campbell’s department works alongside those emerging companies from the time of their inception to help attract new workers to the area and sell them on the residential amenities that are available to them in New Haven and the surrounding towns.

“We try to relocate these candidates to the Greater New Haven area, which now includes New York City and basically all of New England,” she said.

She explained that most of the candidates typically like to find a house that’s relatively new, or oftentimes relocating workers will build new homes because they want to be able to get settled in quickly.

One issue that is commonly dealt with is the need for temporary housing while workers are in the process of relocating but still need to be working for a local company.

“A lot of companies have created furnished accommodations so that their candidates can look for housing with their families. During that process we try to provide information that they’ll need in regard to whether they’ll take the job and whether the community can replicate the environment they’re coming from,” said Campbell.

Coming to Life

Often relocating biotech workers are interested in purchasing or building larger homes, typically with a minimum size of 2,500 square feet.

“Generally these candidates like houses that are no less than 10 years old because they usually don’t want to do a lot of work on the house when they move in,” said Campbell.

She added, “We have found that our average sale price in the Relocation Department has been increasing over the last few years. The candidates we’re dealing with are spending around $400,000 on a home.”

Campbell said that price is slightly higher than the average sale price in area communities, one reason being that candidates are typically offered some sort of relocation package. Because many of the biotech firms are still in the start-up phase, however, the packages might just be in the form of moving expenses and a small allowance to get the candidate started in the new community.

“It’s also possible to provide them services, both real estate and financial, in the location they’re leaving and location they’re coming to,” said Campbell.

Because the new workers are relocating to an entirely new area, they often need education about the local communities.

“We are able to help them research and give them information about the area to help them make their decision quickly. We’re highly motivated to get these families settled in. A lot of times, these families are in temporary housing and rentals in this area can be very expensive. But for the candidates to feel comfortable they need to feel that they’ve researched and received enough information to make sure that this is the right decision for them,” said Campbell. “Often they will rent [for] a couple of months before they make their decision.”

It’s not only a job that they will be changing. A prospective employee’s whole lifestyle will be uprooted in the relocation scenario. Realtors will take candidates out for tours of the area, showing them key interest points like shopping areas, schools and recreation facilities.

“We really work as assistants to these companies who try to sell them on a job while Realtors are giving them the ‘warm and fuzzy’ about the community,” said Campbell.

While she couldn’t offer an exact number of relocating workers that her department deals with on an average basis, Campbell did say that the number depends on the growth pattern of the specific company with which her department is working.

“Some companies we’ve seen go from 15 people when we started to more than 200 employees, but that could be during a period of five years. Some of those workers are relocations, but others they clearly get from this community. But when a company is in a high-growth pattern, they can bring in 50 people a year or more. Often the smaller companies grow more exponentially than larger ones,” she said.

“New Haven has really come to life over the last few years,” Campbell said. “It’s really a whole lifestyle. The apartment buildings coming in are very nice, expensive buildings, and the restaurants and shops are very nice, and it’s just really coming back to life. If you add to this the factor of a real thriving business community that has a cohesive bond with Yale as well, you just get a revitalization of the city as a whole.”

Susan Jacobson, a Realtor with H. Pearce’s Guilford office, said Realtors generally take prospective homebuyers out on several tours of the area. After they’ve seen several surrounding towns, she noted, most end up along the shoreline area of New Haven County, such as Branford or Guilford.

“This area of the shoreline is very transient, and we get a lot of corporate clients and biotech employees moving in all the time,” she said. “We get them into a few different properties and take a few different trips with them. It usually takes several interviews with the [prospective employer] before they get the job, and often I’m taking out different people all vying for the same job.”

Jacobson added that relocating homebuyers often speak with new coworkers to get their opinion on where to live.

“They talk to people they’ll be working with, so I hear all kinds of things from them – don’t move here, this place is better than that place, this area is really nice. I’m not supposed to comment, so I just take them where they want to go,” she said.

Included in H. Pearce’s relocation package is a computer disc with information on all of the areas surrounding New Haven. That information includes school reports as well as other statistics on town life and services.

Jacobson said the process can take up to a year to complete.

“It depends on which company [is doing the hiring],” she said.

Right now, Jacobson said, prospective homebuyers can find their way into summer rentals while they look for permanent housing. This week, a candidate who had been staying in a hotel while looking for a house came into her office, and Jacobson found a rental unit that will suffice for the time being.

“These people like to get a good feel for the area before they buy,” she said.

Jacobson, who has been in the business for 15 years, and said roughly 20 percent of her sales come from relocations.