Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguierre said that North Carolina provided the most compelling economic case among bids submitted by Florida, Louisiana, and its current headquarters state of Ohio. The big announcement Uptown yesterday was that Chiquita Brand International will be moving its corporate headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte. That translates to 400 jobs with an average wage of $106,000. It also plans to relocate its research and development facilities to Mecklenburg County.
It's fair to say that the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce conference room went bananas yesterday. Here's Governor Bev Perdue's announcement. "We are delighted. Delighted. Honored. Privileged," she said. "All those words to announce this very minute that Chiquita is moving its corporate headquarters to Charlotte, North Carolina."
Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre said the Charlotte Douglas International airport, with its direct flights to Europe and South America, played a huge role in the decision. So did several million dollars. There was a large disparity between the incentives packages offered by North Carolina and those by its current headquarters state of Ohio.
"Roughly the incentives here are $24 million dollars plus about $4 million in savings a year," remarked Aguirre. "In Cincinnati, we would have gotten maybe $6, $6 and a half million in incentives and essentially no savings. So, it's big. It's a huge number."
In homage to the color of bananas, Governor Perdue (pictured), Mayor Foxx, Commissioner Chair Jennifer Roberts, and Chiquita CEO all wore matching yellow bowties. North Carolina also outbid Louisiana and Florida. Aguirre estimates about 200 employees will relocate from Cincinnati and that the company will have to fill the other 200 jobs.
Cincinnati councilman Cecil Thomas says it's a big loss for his city. "It's disappointing to lose, not only the number of jobs that we will be losing, but just the status of having a corporation such as Chiquita here in our locality," he said. "That's unfortunate that we lose that."
This wasn't the first time Chiquita entertained leaving Cincinnati. In 2005, the company came close to moving to Atlanta. Since then the company has gotten into trouble with the federal government. In 2007, Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million federal fine. That was for a series of payments it made over a seven-year period to a South American paramilitary group called the United Defense Forces of Colombia. The U.S. government classified the group as a terrorist organization. Chiquita has said that they were extortion payments to protect its employees in Colombia.
Those payments continue to dog the company. In June, a federal judge refused to dismiss lawsuits filed by several thousand Colombians who say Chiquita's payments helped the terrorist group fund its torturous acts in the region. But none of that was discussed at Tuesday's ceremony.
Governor Perdue said she made it a personal mission to get Chiquita to Charlotte. She said she was persistent in calling CEO Aguirre. "I talked to him about four weeks ago when he was in the short rows," she said. "I tracked him down. I've tracked him down several times since we met and just let him know that we were quite serious."
Chiquita will set up shop in the NASCAR Plaza. It pledges to invest about $14 million over the next five years. The public officials at Tuesday's press conference each celebrated with a personal flair. Each cracked a banana joke, and all sported cute, yellow bowties.