Navy Yard Returns to its Roots While Some Philly Start-Ups Depart for the Suburbs
Twenty years after far-sighted officials began marketing the former naval base in South Philadelphia as the Navy Yard business center for growing private firms, its largest employer is — the Navy.
Of the 15,000 men and women who officials say work in the new and repurposed buildings on the Delaware River at the foot of Broad Street (up from 10,000 seven years ago), nearly 4,000 work for the U.S. Navy.
Rob Frantz, a former fighter pilot and ex-GlaxoSmithKline executive who moved his specialized pumps company, Kinetic Ceramics, to the yard from Northern California in 2016, has seen the naval yard crunch firsthand.
“What I found over the last three years at the Navy Yard, it’s nice, but big companies are taking over, rather than small companies in shared space,” Frantz said. “It wasn’t that innovative, high-pulse feeling.”
Frantz had wanted his dozen staffers to be part of “all the innovation going on at that part of the campus,” which he had observed in 2013 as an executive at Glaxo’s new building on Crescent Drive. Frantz saw the same energy as a visitor to state-funded Ben Franklin Technology Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s nearby Navy Yard headquarters, a font of start-up cash and advice.
In the spring, Frantz moved his growing company from the yard to Spring House, into a suburban campus that Horsham developer MRA Group has fitted into the former Rohm and Haas labs in Montgomery County. He says he once again feels that innovation energy at Spring House because of neighbors like Jefferson’s biotech center, another Philadelphia transplant.
There’s even a very familiar face — Mark de Grandpre, an executive with Ben Franklin Technology Partners who had worked out of the Naval Yard and had assisted Frantz’s company there. De Grandpre has lately been working out of the Spring House center and once again began helping Frantz.
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