Philips will move from Perimeter to Alpharetta

Electronics giant Philips is leaving its Perimeter area office building -- with its distinctive neon sign visible along I-285 -- and consolidating Atlanta operations in Alpharetta.

Philips officials wouldn’t say Thursday if any jobs would be lost in the transition.

The company did say many of the Alpharetta jobs will be typically lower-paid, call-center jobs.

In any case, Philips' move signals the end of a hoped-for era in which the Dutch consumer and medical-equipment giant would burnish Atlanta’s global, high-tech cachet.

Left unchanged, though, is the name on downtown Atlanta’s basketball and hockey facility: Philips Arena.

Philips, a global giant with 128,000 employees in 60 countries, makes TVs, shavers, lighting and, increasingly, health-care equipment. It announced in late 1996 the movement of its North American consumer electronics division from Knoxville to Dunwoody. Three-hundred jobs, mostly in the sales and marketing of TV sets, home theater systems, DVDs and other electronics, were created.

The company filled eight floors at 64 Perimeter Center East and immediately gained a presence far beyond the bustling shopping and office district. In 1999, Philips bought the naming rights to the downtown arena, a 20-year deal that cost tens of millions of dollars.

Corporate churn has been a Philips constant. In 2003, the Dutch multinational axed 113 sales and marketing jobs in Atlanta, 30 percent of the workforce, as part of a global cost-cutting maneuver. Another 95 jobs were cut a year later.

By mid-decade, Philips CEO Gerard Kleisterlee re-positioned the company to ride the global demographic health-care wave: By 2015 the world’s population aged 60 and over is expected to double to 1 billion people.

The recession accelerated the company’s transformation. The headquarters of the consumer electronics division moved from Dunwoody to Connecticut in 2008. Kleisterlee also unveiled plans to slash another 6,000 jobs worldwide.

The cost-cuttings and consolidations helped Philips, the biggest consumer-electronics maker in Europe, notch a $355 million net profit the last quarter. Revenue overall in 2008 reached $42 billion.

Earlier this month Philips opened its Healthcare Customer Care Solutions Center in Alpharetta. Philips is leasing two floors at One Deerfield Centre for 400 health-care employees and an undetermined number of other Philips workers. The mostly call-center technicians monitor patients and help hospitals across North and South America keep medical equipment up and running.

Lindsay Woods, a spokeswoman for Philips, said Thursday that the company employs 1,500 people statewide in its health-care, information technology and hospitality divisions. Many work in Alpharetta; most work at home, she added. Another 22 customer-care jobs soon will be filled in Alpharetta, Woods said.

But she could not say how many total jobs would be lost or gained with the move from the Perimeter area. Philips officials couldn’t be reached late Thursday afternoon.

Without Philips, the vacancy rate in the central Perimeter area continues to climb. It hit 21 percent in the fourth quarter, according to Colliers Spectrum Cauble in Atlanta. Macy’s and Verizon, for example, quit the Perimeter office market last year.

Ted Schwartz, a senior vice president at Ackerman & Co., said Philips' old building is considered a “B-level” part of the Perimeter office market. Dunwoody’s loss is clearly Alpharetta’s gain.

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