A Conversation with Tom Caramanico, President, McCormick Taylor

Tom Caramanico has been the president of McCormick Taylor, Inc., an engineering company, since 1988. He previously owned the company, having sold it to an internal group in 2011, and continues to serve as president. With 480 employees in 19 offices located in nine states, the firm specializes in transportation planning, environmental studies, traffic studies and highway and bridge design. 

He is active in the community as he serves on six other non-profit boards. These include The National Liberty Museum and Friends School Haverford — both of which he chairs. He is also active on the Boards of the Friends of Independence National Historical Park, Independence Visitor Center and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Caramanico and his family established the Caramanico Foundation to aid the development of quality education and teaching in Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia with targeted attention to three Caramanico Schools.

What does your role consist of as President of McCormick Taylor and Executive Director of Friends of Independence National Historical Park?

I’ve been with McCormick Taylor 45 years. I was the President and the Owner from about 1988 to 2011. I sold the company to two internal people, though I am still technically the President. The last 15 or 16 years, I have spent a lot of time on non-profit boards though, with the Friends of Independence National Historical Park (FINHP) being the first nonprofit board I got on in about 2001.

About 3 or 4 years ago, we wanted to enhance the FINHP’s ability to raise money in order to make sure we carry out what needs to be done for the park, and we’ve been making some great strides. We’ve welcomed Bill Marrazzo, the CEO of WHYY as board chair among other key board members that have been really helpful in raising money.

And that’s to rejuvenate the park and help it become the massive tourist destination that it’s become? Was that the original mission of FINHP?

The history of FINHP is kind of interesting. The organization was started in 1972, and the superintendent at that time and noticed that what had to be done to prepare for the nation’s bicentennial just couldn’t be done with the park’s budget. He went to a group of people to ask if they could help raise money to do some of those things, and this became the FINHP, the first Friends group of any park in the country.

Now, almost every park in the country has a Friends group. The park service gives recommendations for what they need, and we create a work plan every year based on that. We’re also working to focus our attention on not just the independence mall itself, but also the surrounding areas in the designated park, such as Franklin Square and the park outside of the Ben Franklin Bridge. 

We’ve had some grand ideas. Right now our biggest project is the First Bank, where we’re raising $26 million. But we’ve also had projects as small as $1,700 to restore a historic inkwell that’s contemporaneous with the signing of the declaration of independence. We’ve also raised $40,000 to restore the Pennsylvania Coat of Arms, which was also 250 years and in need of restoration. We have a project for the bicentennial bell garden, which will be a place for the bicentennial bell to be situated in the garden on 3rd and Walnut. There are a lot of projects like that, and when we are successful with the First Bank, we will take on more projects for the park.

For instance, ‘The Grass House’ which is at 7th and Market is not open very much, and it needs a lot of restoration, though it’s not a historic building. We hope to raise money for that too.

How do you see both Philadelphia and the world’s cultural heritage, particularly with regard to your role at FINHP?

I think there are lots of stories of our cultural heritage that aren’t told. As we know, Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury and created the financial system of the United States, and this story all happened in Philadelphia. This First Central Bank of the United States, that he opened, isn’t really open to the public and doesn’t really have much in it. Obviously, congress decided not to renew its charter, and they created a new charter, which is called the Second Bank of the U.S. on Chestnut Street. Then, Andrew Jackson ended that bank and the Federal Reserve Bank, which was the third central bank and created in 1914, and the U.S. Mint across the street. That said, most people think that the American conception of money was centered on New York, when in fact it mostly took place in Philadelphia, and that is a heritage story we need to tell more.

There’s a lot to look into about the story of Stephen Girard, Girard Bank, and Girard College as well. Stephen Girard had his own bank, but not many people know that the Girard Bank that existed after his death didn’t actually have much to do with Stephen Girard, aside from being in his building, which was donated to the City of Philadelphia. As we all know, Stephen Girard didn’t have any heirs, so upon his death, he gave most of his fortune to the city of Philadelphia and the creation of Girard College. In his will he even had specific instructions on how the buildings of Girard College would look, as you could tell by their amazing architecture. His whole life is very fascinating.

The city has changed considerably in recent years, and much of your work has certainly contributed quite a bit to that. We would say in a much more global way as well. What changes to Philadelphia do you consider to be most noticeable?

Obviously the construction happening downtown is impressive, and the tourism industry has changed a lot as well. Sitting on the board of the Visitor’s Center, I can say that the visitor’s experience has definitely changed. We’re working to have one of the most technologically advanced Visitor’s Center, for example, with touch screens that have avatars that show up at different heights by recognizing the height of the visitor.

We’re looking at tourism based on our World Heritage City status, and that’s very much improved in the last 5 or 10 years. The Chamber of Commerce has been saying that Philadelphia is the city that has more millennials moving to it than any other city in America, and most of them won’t be using cars.

These are all things that are totally changing the landscape of what Philadelphia looks like now and will continue to look like. I think it’s an exciting time.


Interview conducted by Will Becker on behalf of Global Philadelphia Assocation