Chiquita to move from Cincinnati

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A North Carolina economic development panel approved an incentives deal worth more than $22 million to bring the global headquarters of banana giant Chiquita Brands International to North Carolina.

The deal includes $20 million in state incentives and $2 million in local incentives to bring at least 375 jobs to North Carolina. Chiquita will also consolidate other corporate functions in Charlotte by bringing more than 100 additional positions currently spread across the U.S. to improve execution and accelerate decision-making. The move is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

"They literally told us what they wanted and we were unable and maybe even unwilling to give it to them," Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz told FOX19 Tuesday in reaction to the announcement that Chiquita is leaving Cincinnati.

"We had to compete and compete hard for this company," North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said at a news conference in Charlotte announcing the move.

Committee members said the incentives were needed to give Charlotte an edge over Ohio, Florida and Louisiana. Another key factor in the company's decision was the greater access to foreign flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the assortment of those flights, according to CEO Fernando Aguirre, who spoke at the news conference.

"Charlotte provided the most compelling economic opportunity for Chiquita by far," he said.

Aguirre praised Cincinnati and Ohio for providing a home for the company since 1987, but said the move to Charlotte will, among other things, save Chiquita more than $4 million a year in operating costs.

"Times change, and the fact is, we needed to make decisions that would help our business not just for the short term, but also for the long term," he said.

Speculation started in September that Chiquita could be moving from its headquarters on East Fifth Street in Downtown Cincinnati.  Bortz, who will be leaving his City office Wednesday after six years serving as a member of council, said he was not surprised at the decision.

"I think the real issue is dealing with what Chiquita told us was the problem with our region... and that includes a local airport that is priced too high and doesn't offer sufficient destinations. And, an anti-immigrant culture in our region that really has to be addressed," he said.

"There's no question. This is a disappointment to lose one of our marquis corporations here in Cincinnati," said councilman-elect P.G. Sittenfeld.

Members of the economic development committee in Charlotte said the move of Chiquita's headquarters, along with research and development laboratories, will eventually bring a total of about 417 jobs to the area. The jobs are supposed to pay an average of about $107,000.

Chiquita also considered moving its headquarters from Cincinnati in 2005, but stayed in Ohio. It has been based in Cincinnati since 1987.

Chiquita spokesman Ed Loyd said in September that the company had been evaluating where to have its headquarters for some time. The lease in Cincinnati was extended through 2012 to give them time to make the decision.

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, released the following statement:

"The company has issues beyond what incentives can address. When it's a priority to make sure incentive packages begin returning an investment for taxpayers as quickly as possible, we're not going to be irresponsible and give away the store to try and keep a company that fundamentally doesn't want to be here or which has already made up its mind to leave."

After the announcement made by officials from Chiquita and Charlotte, Mayor Mark Mallory issued this statement:

"The City of Cincinnati has been aggressively working to grow our economy and bring new jobs to Cincinnati.  During my time as Mayor, we have had tremendous success in attracting and retaining companies and adding new jobs.  While Chiquita has decided to leave our community, Cincinnati's business community continues to remain strong and growing, and we have many more wins in our future because Cincinnati is a great place to do business."

City Manager Milton Dohoney issued this statement:

"The City offered a competitive and fair package, but in the end, Chiquita made a decision based on a number of factors.  This is how economic development works. This does not change the fact that Cincinnati is a great place to do business.  This point is made over and over by recent headquarter announcements by Omnicare (500 jobs) and First Financial (150 jobs) as well as the Horseshoe Casino's decision to create 1200 permanent  jobs, and businesses moving to The Banks. Additionally, P&G has moved 650 jobs into the city, Kroger is adding jobs and dunhumby USA is adding nearly a dozen jobs monthly.  Cincinnati continues to be a very competitive market. We worked in partnership with the Ohio Department of Development, the Governor's office, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Hamilton County on Chiquita and will continue to do so for future economic development wins."

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