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Why this 85-year-old window-washing business relocated to Philadelphia from Jenkintown

In relocating to the Brewerytown neighborhood, Jenkintown Building Services is hoping to get a business boost from Philadelphia's buy-local push.

Jenkintown Building Services window washer Giovanni Funes cleaning the view for office workers at Commerce Square at 20th and Market Streets.
Jenkintown Building Services window washer Giovanni Funes cleaning the view for office workers at Commerce Square at 20th and Market Streets.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

In a roomful of advocates for more business growth in Philadelphia, Marty Tuzman became an instant hit by announcing he was moving his window-washing company from Montgomery County to the city’s Brewerytown neighborhood.

The second-generation owner and CEO of Jenkintown Building Services, founded in 1933, was applauded that particular November evening by the couple of hundred who had turned out for the launch of Philadelphia Anchors for Growth and Equity, or PAGE — a citywide buy-local effort to create thousands of new jobs by steering hundreds of millions of dollars to local businesses.

Tuzman also got a few laughs when he reflected on the incongruity of a now city-based company named after a suburban town.

“We can either change our name or change the city’s name,” he joked.

Then came some serious stuff, arguably a matter of life and death for a business whose employees dangle from skyscrapers hundreds of feet above ground.

“The training that we need to do constantly, both for safety as well as making these guys what they need to be ... is a challenge,” said Tuzman, who said he has about 90 employees but did not want the company’s revenues publicized. “Where is funding and opportunity dollars for that? That’s a challenge we’re having.”

That need, it turns out, was overlooked by PAGE’s founders.

“It never really occurred to me to think about the facilities side of things," Jeff Hornstein, executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, said in an interview.

Looking to make “a high impact really quickly,” Hornstein said he and other PAGE organizers have been focused on building local procurement of commodities and medical services since giving PAGE an intentionally low-key start a few years ago in the Office of the City Controller, where he was director of financial and policy analysis before joining the Economy League a year ago. Part of the thinking, Hornstein said, was that “the service sector is already highly localized. The University of Pennsylvania is not going to import a company from Virginia to do their facilities services."

But what Tuzman made clear is that businesses that are here could also use help in maximizing their opportunities. Among those hearing him at the PAGE debut was City Commerce Director Harold Epps. He has since urged Hornstein to consider ways to help local facilities-services businesses such as Tuzman’s secure work from Philadelphia’s anchor employers.

“He’s pushed me to start looking at how the institutions are doing that kind of work,” Hornstein said. For instance, who is doing dormitory repairs and renovations for the city’s many schools? “That could be a job that could help boost a minority contractor.”

In 2014, a report by the city Controller’s Office found that $5.3 billion is spent annually on goods and services by the city’s 34 universities and hospitals, and only $2.7 billion of it goes to businesses located in Philadelphia.

PAGE’s initial goal is to localize $500 million in contracts at city hospitals and universities for goods and services — such as office supplies, lab equipment, food, video production, and web design — and create as many as 5,000 living-wage, middle-skill jobs for Philadelphia residents in eight to 10 years. Currently, 13 anchor employers and the Commerce Department have signed on.

With about 75 percent of its client base located in the city, Jenkintown Building Services already does work for some of PAGE’s founding institutional employers, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. Other clients range from the heights of the city to ground level, including both Comcast towers to smaller office and residential buildings as well as schools, restaurants and stores.

The company has had outposts in the city since 1999, with a garage in South Philadelphia and later a base of operations at 12th and Callowhill Streets, where all of its trucks were parked to be closer to jobs. Determining it “was more efficient to be based in one location,” Tuzman moved everything in October to a 22,000-square-foot brick warehouse/office complex in Brewerytown with 20,000 square feet of parking.

Most of the $2 million relocation cost, including purchase of the site formerly used by a moving company, has come from a low-interest loan from PIDC, a public-private economic development nonprofit founded by the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and a mortgage from Wells Fargo, Tuzman said. It wasn’t immediately clear how the relocation would impact the company’s tax burden, given that it would be subjected to new city taxes.

Jenkintown Building Services has diversified over the years to take advantage of the city’s building boom, adding to its offerings post-construction cleaning, ongoing housekeeping (its technicians dust the 12 life-size figures that appear to be walking along the overhead beams in the Comcast Center’s soaring atrium), and design consulting (all those trendy rooftop gardens that have become standard in new apartment buildings can pose challenges to window washers if plantings, barbecue grills or hot tubs block the anchors to which they fasten their safety harnesses).

Tuzman spoke of a historically “painful-to-watch” procurement environment at major institutions, where those doing the buying are familiar with the finances of the transaction but not the product or service being purchased.

“There are times where the major institutions wind up just looking at low dollars and not understanding what might be shorted in the process,” he said.

Without naming names, he recalled losing out on a job from “a major anchor institution” in Philadelphia because he was charging nearly $1,000 more than a competitor — in large part for use of a lift Tuzman said was critical to maximizing safety, “to keep a man from hanging off a roof that doesn’t have provisions.”

He said he hopes PAGE helps institutional buying move beyond the procurement agent whose job is “to get the low number.”

“It’s not just about the low number, it’s about quality and dependability and [in the window-washing industry] safety,” Tuzman said.

And it’s about the impact of local businesses supporting other local businesses, he said. “If we all understand that commitment to work together, we all do better.”

Headquartered in Philadelphia just two months, Jenkintown Building Services has made a point of buying local when possible, Tuzman said.

“We love the local restaurants, found vehicle repair shops blocks away for our fleet, and brought our print business local for the calendar,” he said. “As we encounter needs, the opportunity to source locally will be our commitment.”