Sodexo considers leaving Gaithersburg

Local office brokers say Sodexo, the global services firm, is considering moving its U.S. headquarters out of Gaithersburg, setting off a competition among property owners, developers and local governments looking to land the company’s 550 to 570 local jobs.

Sodexo operates in 80 countries and has more than 413,000 employees worldwide, with global headquarters outside of Paris. The company offers all manner of on-site services to corporate, government, defense and academic clients.

Its U.S. subsidiary, Sodexo Inc., focuses on facilities and food services at about 6,000 sites and is said to be seeking around 175,000 square feet. It is currently located at one of Montgomery County’s most distinctive and environmentally advanced buildings: One Washingtonian Center, at 9801 Washingtonian Blvd.

“Like many companies, we are constantly looking at and evaluating opportunities to serve our customers, our shareholders and our employees,” Sodexo spokesman Enrico Dinges said.

Dinges would not discuss specifics of the company’s search. The broker leading the search, Jack McShea, president and chief executive of the Gaithersburg-based McShea & Co., referred questions to Sodexo.


Sodexo operates in 80 countries and has more than 413,000 employees worldwide, with global headquarters outside of Paris. (Courtesy of Sodexo)

One Washingtonian Center is owned and operated by divisions of CBRE, which declined to comment on Sodexo’s future. But Sodexo’s lease expires in January 2014, and brokers in suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia say they are courting the firm.

Like other local corporate real estate decisions — including California-based Bechtel’s decision to relocate 625 jobs to Reston and CoStar Group’s decision to move its headquarters from Bethesda to the District — the prospect of adding hundreds of Sodexo workers has local governments trying to attract the company.

“We’re in discussions with Sodexo. They have not narrowed down their options,” said Steve Silverman, Montgomery County director of economic development.

Silverman said he believed the company’s search was limited to the Washington area, and that the slow economy may have encouraged Sodexo officials to look at whether a bargain could be had if the company relocated. “They’re absolutely looking to stay in the region. It’s just that in this marketplace, it’s almost negligent if people don’t look at options,” he said.

If Sodexo leaves Gaithersburg it would likely remain in Montgomery County along Interstate 270 or consider outer Virginia suburbs along the Dulles Toll Road, according to Malcolm Schweiker, a broker in CBRE’s Tysons Corner office.

“I think economically Maryland is going to be much more aggressive than even the toll road would be,” he said.

Govs. Bob McDonnell (R) of Virginia and Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland have both used subsidies to court and attract jobs to their states through relocations. Both attempted to persuade Northrop Grumman to relocate its headquarters to their states (the defense giant chose Falls Church), and earlier this year, Acentia moved from Silver Spring to Falls Church, though it did not receive money from Virginia.

Silverman said he expects Virginia to try to poach the company, perhaps by offering subsidies. “The state [of Maryland] and the county will work together to work against Gov. McDonnell, because that’s where the money comes from,” he said. Suzanne West, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, declined to comment.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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