While Illinois magnates were distributing pork ahead of the upcoming election, a major corporation walked out of Lincoln’s land. Tyson Foods is fleeing the fold in search of greener pastures.
In last week’s first gubernatorial debate, Governor JB Pritzker and GOP challenger Darren Bailey paid little attention to the state’s continued loss of business and industry. Instead, the two traded barbs, with occasional accusations of being “a liar”.
Tyson Foods, known for its chicken, sausage, meat offerings and various prepared foods, announced last week that it would move about 500 employees in its Chicago office and Downers Grove Innovation Center to the company’s headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. They were not snapped up with incentives from other states, like many Illinois corporations that were stolen from Illinois.
Instead, the company, one of the largest meat producers in the world, appears to be putting all of its corporate eggs in one basket. Tyson is also moving employees to Arkansas from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The “phased relocation” of staff from those three locations will begin early next year. The Tribune said about 1,000 employees would be affected by the merger.
The move is another loss for Illinois, in the wake of the headquarters of Caterpillar, Boeing and Citadel Securities, along with their employees, leaving the Prairie State area in a state of low corporate tax rates. Their trips do not include the smaller companies that have immigrated to Wisconsin and Indiana in recent years.
In general, we are not talking about chicken feed here. Political leaders continue to ignore the implications of these departures as they tout business transfers within the country.
These blows not only to Illinois’ prestige as a pro-business state, but also cause economic damage. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot distributed tax breaks and tax money to the citizens of Illinois and Chicago ahead of the November 8 election.
Last month, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempzynski called for more collaboration between business leaders and the public sector to tackle the many issues in Chicago, one of which is crime. Lightfoot, who is up for re-election next year, took offense at this and noted that more than 100 companies had moved to Chicago or opened businesses in Chicago over the past year and a half.
Longtime Lake Countians may remember that Tyson once owned Sara Lee Corp. , which called Deerfield her home from 1964 to 1991. When Sara Lee moved her headquarters to the Village from Chicago, she built what was then the largest bakery in the world—500,000 square feet—producing the company’s delectable fudge cakes, Danish pastries, and rolls.
Besides the company’s offices and bakery off Waukegan Road (Route 43), the company had an on-site outlet store for its products, attracting shoppers from all over the county. At the time, Sarah Lee was a major industry for Deerfield. The property is now a mixed residential development.
In 2014, Tyson acquired Hillshire, along with Sara Lee’s operations, for approximately $8 billion. Tyson, in turn, sold Sarah Lee and Hillshire to Kohlberg & Co. Holdings, in 2018.
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Tyson hasn’t submitted any plans for her downtown Chicago office, but moving to Arkansas leaves another hole in the city’s real estate market. It also raises the possibility of another abandoned building in the heart of the city with vacancy rates around 20%.
The company does not plan layoffs in conjunction with the merger. Segregation will be determined “on an individual basis” for those who choose not to move to Arkansas.
And who wouldn’t want to leave the beautiful Illinois suburbs to relocate to Springdale, Arkansas, the centrally located fourth largest city in the state nestled within the vistas of the Ozark Mountains. Tyson Foods is the major employer in the city, which is home to more than 70,000 residents.
With yet another large employer leaving Illinois—this one of its own volition—the state’s economic development gurus need to devise a better strategy to keep our business environment viable. So far, they’ve had a dismal record, and our political leaders seem to have little interest in retaining and luring companies to Illinois.
Charles Seely is a former News-Sun correspondent, editor and political editor.