Column: Politicians ignore another corporation leaving Illinois

While Illinois pols have been distributing pork before the upcoming election, one major company has chickened out of the Land of Lincoln. Tyson Foods is fleeing the coop for greener pastures.

In their first gubernatorial debate last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and GOP challenger Darren Bailey paid scant attention to the state’s continuing loss of business and industry. Instead, the two traded barbs, with occasional accusations of “liar.”

Tyson Foods, known for its chicken products, hot dogs, meat offerings and assorted prepared foods, announced last week it would move about 500 corporate employees based in its Chicago office and Downers Grove innovation center to the firm’s Springdale, Arkansas, world headquarters. They weren’t plucked by incentives from other states, as many Illinois firms that have been poached from Illinois.

Instead, the company, one of the world’s largest meat producers, appears to be putting all 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. A “phased relocation” of employees from those three locations will begin early next year. About 1,000 employees in total will be affected by the consolidation, the Tribune said.

The move is another loss for Illinois, on the heels of Caterpillar, Boeing and Citadel Securities headquarters, along with their employees, leaving the Prairie State roost for states with lower corporate tax rates. Their flights don’t include smaller companies which have migrated to Wisconsin and Indiana in recent years.

In all, we’re not talking about chicken feed here. Political leaders continue to ignore the ramifications of these departures as they tout in-state business transfers.

These are blows to not only Illinois’ prestige as a pro-business state, but also cause economic damage. This as Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has doled out tax breaks and tax moneys to Illinoisans and Chicagoans prior to the Nov. 8 election.

Last month, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski called for more collaboration between business leaders and the public sector to address numerous issues in Chicago, among them crime. Lightfoot, up for reelection next year, took umbrage at that and pointed out more than 100 companies have moved to or opened for business in Chicago over the last year and a half.

Longtime Lake Countians may remember that Tyson once owned Sara Lee Corp., which called Deerfield its home from 1964 to 1991. When Sara Lee moved its headquarters to the village from Chicago, it built what was then the largest bakery in the world — 500,000 square feet — to produce the firm’s tasty dessert cakes, Danish pastries and rolls.

Besides corporate offices and the bakery off Waukegan Road (Route 43), the company had a factory outlet store on-site for its products, which drew shoppers from across the county. At the time, Sara Lee was a main industry for Deerfield. The property is now a mixed housing development.

In 2014, Hillshire, along with the Sara Lee operations, was acquired by Tyson for nearly $8 billion. Tyson in turn sold Sara Lee and Hillshire to holding firm Kohlberg & Co., in 2018.

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Tyson has not offered any plans for its downtown Chicago office, but moving to Arkansas leaves another gap in the city’s real estate market. It also raises the possibility of another deserted building in the core city where vacancy rates are about 20%.

The company is not planning layoffs in association with the consolidation. Severance will be determined “on an individual basis” for those who choose not to relocate to Arkansas.

And who wouldn’t want to leave the lovely environs of Illinois to move to Springdale, Arkansas, the state’s fourth-largest city centrally located and nestled within the vistas of the Ozark Mountains. Tyson Foods is the main employer in the city, which has more than 70,000 residents.

With another large employer leaving Illinois — this one on its own volition — the state’s economic development gurus need to hatch a better strategy to keep our business environment viable. So far, they have had a dismal record, and our political leaders seem to care little about keeping and luring corporations to Illinois.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

Twitter: @sellenews

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October 10, 2022 at 04:25PM

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