This is Exit Interview, a weekly interview series with someone who has left Philadelphia, perhaps for another country or region or even just out of city limits and often taking talent, business and jobs with them. If you or someone you know left Philly for whatever reason, we want to hear from you. Contact us.
Megan Wendell has an interesting story, and she knows it.
As shared in our March 2010 interview with the indie record label executive turned Canary Promotions + Design chief and her web developer husband Mason, Wendell had very deep professional and personal relationships with the Philadelphia arts and creative technology communities.
A couple months before husband Mason joined Old City development firm Zivtech, the couple had moved their home, their young daughter and, by extension, Megan’s promotions business out of Mount Airy in northwest Philadelphia to nearby suburban Glenside.
Megan is very careful in pointing out that this move was all business. She still has nothing but love for the Philly arts scene, but there has to be something to be learned from the move by this young, educated, creative family.
Technically Philly talks to Megan below, in another installment of Exit Interview.
When did you actually leave? From where and to where specifically?
We packed up our Mount Airy offices in May of 2010 and moved about 10 minutes up the road to Glenside’s business district. We had previously been based in the Chestnut Hill/Mount Airy area since we first moved to Philly in late 2001.
What are the primary reasons you and your business left Philadelphia?
While the business privilege tax burden was certainly an important factor in our decision to move outside of Philadelphia’s city limits, personal factors also came into play as we began to consider the needs of our family.
When we realized that we could make significant cuts to our taxes by moving both our house and business outside the city, we really had to consider that option seriously. We found a house in Montgomery County that we loved, with a big yard, close to great schools â€“ it was a decision for both the future of our business and also for our 3-year-old daughter.
For the most part, I feel that a Center City address is arbitrary for our type of business. When my partner Mason and I started Canary, we were literally running it out of a van with laptops and cell phones while we toured the country with our band. With our relatively unconventional business backgrounds, we’ve always felt that we could run a business from anywhere. Also, our clients and our PR and social media work are not limited just to Philly. While our company has grown considerably over the past few years, we felt confident that our success would continue to follow us regardless of our geographical location, and it has.
That being said, the Philadelphia cultural community has been very good to us, and I still feel very connected to the city. I maintain a strong interest in the continued growth of the creative economy in Philly and the region. I got into PR and marketing because I wanted to promote the work of artists and organizations that inspired and excited me. I truly believe that the arts community in this region is unparalleled, and I want to continue to see it flourish and grow. There are so many artists here who have important artistic visions to offer – and that’s key to any city that values diverse cultural offerings.
Was there a specific event or moment that you realized you had to/wanted to leave?
It’s something we had been considering for several years, but the timing was just right for us this past year. I felt that Philadelphia taxes were significantly holding back Canary’s growth. We’re not entirely rid of these taxes, as we still have clients based in the city, but the reduction is enough to make the move worthwhile for us over time. As a direct result of the move we have been able to grow the business and offer new benefits to our employees, something the BPT [business privilege taxes] had made difficult for us in the past.
Our clients also benefit from our Glenside address because it keeps our overhead lower. That’s important to us because we want to continue to offer affordable services to our clients, the majority of which are cultural and nonprofit organizations that need to make the most of their marketing and PR budgets.
Do you think you would return to Philadelphia under appropriate circumstances?
Possibly if it became crucial for our client development or if the city was offering a major tax incentive. One thing the city could do now to help businesses would be to establish dates for estimated payments. We make these payments for state and federal taxes, but with Philadelphia you have to pay your bill — which includes a payment for the next year — all at once or receive penalties. For small businesses like ours, this can be very challenging on cash flow.
As a member of the creative economy, I’m excited about the efforts being made by the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and their newly released study “Creative Vitality in Philadelphia.” This study shows that Philadelphia has a healthy and vibrant creative sector that provides jobs and generates over a billion dollars in revenue. But how will the city support the
growth of this community over the long term? How does the independent publicist, the graphic designer, the choreographer continue to grow their careers under one of the highest tax burdens in the country? City officials must carefully consider the wide reach of the cultural sector and its impact on the growth of this city as they work to promote a new era, positioning Philadelphia as a leader in the nation’s creative economy.
When someone you meet from outside the region asks about Philadelphia and its startup community, what do you tell them?
I’m always an advocate for what Philadelphia has to offer, but I do caution people about the BPT because it’s something many people are unaware of at first. I’ve been involved in many different scenes in Philly over the past 9-plus years, from music and theater to grass roots organizing to the business community, and I continue to believe that we have some of the most passionate, smart and creative people here. It’s exhilarating to be a part of that energy, and I tell people they need to come here to experience it.
What’s the latest from Canary that we can plug or look forward toward?
Over the last year, we’ve really expanded our services to offer comprehensive communications plans, including media relations, marketing, branding consultation, social media and community engagement. We’ll be continuing to build on that this year as more organizations are recognizing the need for consistent messaging.
We’ll also be revamping our website and amping up our blog and Facebook activity in the new year to offer more industry news, tips, and insight on the area’s vibrant cultural and creative scene.
For our clients, we’re continuing to work with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on their Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia program, which will announce finalists [tomorrow evening]. We continue to promote theater companies such as Lantern Theater Company, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and Amaryllis Theatre Company, as well as the museums Rosenbach Museum & Library and Woodmere Art Museum, among several other mission-driven clients in the region.