Tempe is hot in more ways than one. In the past few years, financial firms have been popping up like popcorn across the valley, but especially in the heart of Sun Devil territory.
According to Kevin Sullivan, the executive vice president of sales and client services at the Arizona Commerce Authority, ACA had 10 financial projects in the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2017 alone, which represented 3,000 jobs.
Name brands are flocking to the university town as a part of their expansions, from Quicken Loans, to Loan Depot, and more. But for Freedom Financial Network, Tempe has become its largest base of operations.
Founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 2002, Freedom Financial Network has now grown into a massive financial firm with over 2,000 employees that has resolved over $6 billion in debt.
“It’s a very unique value proposition,” Sullivan said. “They’re definitely in the customer service business, they can be a myriad of financial relief and financial reorganizational options for consumers.”
The firm initially opened its Arizona firm in 2006 with a handful of employees, but just this early May, the firm has also opened a new, 150,000-square-foot building capable of housing around 1,300 to 1,400 employees.
In February of 2019, Freedom plans to open an identical building next door equipped with a cafeteria. In 2018, Freedom is expected to add $306.8 million to Arizona’s economy, according to a study conducted by Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute.
The way Freedom plans to do this is simple: It plans to service Arizona-based companies and venues for all needs in order to grow the economy and give back to the community. For example, Freedom commissions local companies to make its Employee of the Month plaques, and it hires food truck services as it awaits its cafeteria.
“We try to find local companies to support us,” said Kevin Gallegos, the vice president of Phoenix operations and new client enrollment, as well as the company’s first Arizona hire. “We do try to recognize the local community as well when we try to spend our money.”
With a little over $140.1 million in employee compensation and income, Freedom also anticipates its employees to service local businesses as well.
Because of this, for every one-person Freedom hires in Tempe, approximately one job is added elsewhere in Arizona to keep up with the business’s needs and demands. In other words, Freedom Financial Network has created a total of 4,130 direct, indirect and induced jobs around Arizona, according to ASU’s study. It goes on to say that Freedom’s employment impact made up .17 percent of Arizona’s average private employment in the first quarter of 2018.
When co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were initially looking for another location, they had a list of cities within a two-hour flight from the San Francisco Bay Area. On that list sat Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and other locations within that range.
“In the review of locations, they chose Phoenix for various reasons, including the population,” Gallegos said. “It’s educated, it’s also a very business-friendly environment, there’s plenty of resources for employees, and the cost of living was appropriate as well.”
This business-friendly environment is why Gallegos believes Arizona is a “mecca” for larger employee operations and also accounts for why Freedom has thrived here.
Housser called Tempe “an exceptional base for FFN’s rapid growth.” In the past year, the business’s Tempe’s employee base has increased 30 percent, and the company plans to hire an additional thousand employees to join its nearly 2,000 currently working in Tempe. For reference, there are about 150 working in San Mateo, California.
According to Gallegos, the City of Tempe has been “extremely flexible to work with.” The business-oriented nature of Tempe has caused the Tempe site to work so well that when it came down to deciding between keeping open their Sacramento site versus the Tempe one, they decided to close the former.
“We were out-performing them on every measurement, and then from the performance metric,” Gallegos said, “that’s one perspective, but it’s also a much more business friendly environment.”
In addition, Phoenix continues to grow “by leaps and bounds.” According to the United States Census Bureau, the Maricopa County’s population grew by 222 people every day in 2016, making it the fastest growing county in 2016.
“It was very important for Brad and Andrew to find a place to hire great people and attract great people, and the Phoenix market accommodated that need,” Gallegos said.
The ever-growing pool of potential employees is one of the main factors driving businesses’ decision to plant roots in the area, according to Sullivan.
“I think that the number one thing is the availability of talent,” Sullivan said. “With the university there so close, the light rail makes for easy access for the employees, and the quality of life in Tempe is, like it is across Arizona, really, really high quality of life.”
He also says that the fact that Freedom Financial Network and other name brands have branched out into the Phoenix metropolitan area “reiterates that we have a tremendously pro-business environment.” In addition, he said that with recognizable businesses like ADP, Northern Trust and others, Arizona has seen a number of significant wins in recent years that have encouraged other businesses that Arizona is the place they can grow and expand.
“Every time we get another win,” he said. “it just indicates to companies that are not here that this is a really great place to be.”