DECATUR, Ill. – Archer Daniels Midland Co.'s announcement Monday that it wants to move its global headquarters and 100 high-level jobs out of the small central Illinois city of Decatur has many people in town on edge.
The company, one of the world's biggest agricultural processors, says it won't lay off anyone and will leave 4,400 jobs behind. In addition, Decatur will become the international firm's North American headquarters.
But in Decatur, unemployment is high — 13.2 percent in July. The town has seen another big employer, Caterpillar Inc., lay off hundreds this year. And it's only been three years since another big company, ADM competitor Tate & Lyle, moved its North American headquarters out of town to the Chicago suburbs.
Some people worry that at some point ADM could move more jobs. Fully half of its 30,000 employees are already overseas.
"Right now (ADM is) the only thing going on around here," said 36-year-old unemployed contractor Shawn Flaherty. He's been laid off for six months — the first time ever, he says — after working 10 years for a general contractor where his work was mostly for ADM.
But it's more than just jobs, other say.
The city will be losing the headquarters of its biggest employer, the economic titan that gives Decatur significance beyond its size. It might just have about 75,000 residents, but Decatur has the nerve center for a company that's ranked No. 27 on the Fortune 500 list and generates tens of billions of dollars in sales every year.
"It hurts — it really does hurt. But you move forward," City Council member Pat McDaniel said, adding that he understands the company's decisions and had heard rumors for years that this day might come. "It's tough to compete against large metropolitan communities like Chicago or New York. They can offer things that we can't."
That's essentially what the company said Monday when it announced it's looking for a new home.
"Our company is growing and becoming more global and more customer-centric," CEO Patricia Woertz said. "To continue to succeed, we need a global center in a location that allows us to travel and work efficiently with customers and employees throughout the world. We also need an environment where we can attract and retain employees with diverse skills, and where family members can find ample career opportunities."
Decatur lacks, among other things, a major airport, spokeswoman Victoria Podesta added. It's also a difficult place to recruit some types of employees to, such as tech workers and marketers, she said.
And Chicago, city officials there said, has been talking to ADM and is on what the company says is a short list of potential destinations.
"This is a dynamic, global company that is a leader in a key industry, and we believe that they are a good fit with what Chicago has to offer," spokesman Tom Alexander said. "We'll do our best to keep them in Illinois."
ADM says it won't discuss potential locations, details of its decision-making process or when it expects to decide.
Gov. Pat Quinn has also been talking to the company, his office said.
"We're going to continue to have discussion with this company as we always do, continue to partner with them," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. She did not know if ADM has sought incentives.
ADM's headquarters is also a source of prestige for Illinois, which has grown accustomed to watching other states try to swoop in and lure companies away as the state's economy has struggled the past few years.
The company and its focus on soybeans, corn, ethanol and a wide range of food additives and other products bring businesspeople from around the world to the state, McDaniel pointed out.
ADM first built a plant in Decatur because of the area's focus on soybeans. The company moved its headquarters to town from Minneapolis in the 1960s.
Robert Laskowski, 61, is a Decatur native and owner of a CD and DVD store downtown. He says local residents get jittery when there's uncertainty at ADM, but he's confident the manufacturing jobs, at least, will stay.
"This is where their product is — corn and soybeans," he said.
And there's the new North American headquarters Decatur will become.
The company says it doesn't yet know what exactly that will include.
But University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz called it a "good second-place prize" for Decatur.
"Winning is good, but not losing is not bad either if that's Decatur's only alternative."
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report from Chicago. Mercer reported from Champaign and O'Connor from Decatur.
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