Signet likely to shift jobs to Columbia


Signet Banking Corp. is expected to move roughly 100 jobs from its downtown operations center to Columbia by July, part of the Richmond, Va.-based lender's efforts to trim expenses through consolidation.

The expected move to Columbia comes as Signet enters the final stages of negotiations with the Manekin Corp. to lease office space in the developer's six-building Gateway Crossing 95 project, where the bank will merge operations from downtown and Springfield, Va.

"Columbia represents a centralized location between Baltimore and Springfield, and the bank is looking to create synergies between the two operations and be more effective," said Gail Sanders, a Signet spokeswoman. "It's part of our overall focus on our core business."

Signet's moves also come in the midst of a massive cost-cutting program, aimed at eliminating about 25 percent of its overall expenses to increase earnings and stave off competition, especially from larger, out-of-state banks.

Bank officials said they have not determined how many Virginia employees would be affected by the relocation.

At least some of the 125 downtown workers will be shifted to the bank's administrative offices in the 26-story Signet Tower, Ms. Sanders said.

With the move, Signet's five-story operations center at 210 Guilford Ave. will be completely vacant, the latest in a wave of businesses that have abandoned downtown offices in favor of less expensive suburban locations. At its peak, Signet had about 500 employees there.

Signet has been marketing the 100,000-square-foot building and 370-space parking garage for sale for $3.9 million since last year. In recent weeks, various city agencies -- including the city police department -- have studied the 25-year-old building for a possible purchase.

Signet's operations center actions mirror the steps it took last year with its mortgage division, when it leased 30,000 square feet in the Colgate Ridge Tech Center, also in Columbia, and shifted downtown employees there in an effort to trim costs.

Signet's 52,600-square-foot lease with Manekin for the 7175 Columbia Gateway Drive building is expected to cost the bank $4 million through the end of the decade.

"All the things that make Columbia work are employed in this transaction, in a time when operations centers are serving a larger regional area," said Donald Manekin, a Manekin Corp. senior vice president.

Signet also joins a host of area financial institutions, including Provident Bank of Maryland, which recently have shifted typical "back office" functions such as facilities management, data processing, electronic maintenance and student loan processing, to suburban locations.

"Employee demographics indicate that it often makes sense to have operations functions in suburban locations," said Ira J. Miller, a Miller Corporate Real Estate principal representing Signet in the Columbia transaction. "And because operation centers tend to be employee intensive, moving to the suburbs is often less costly, especially in terms of parking."

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