ConAgra headquarters to leave Omaha for Chicago

ConAgra will move its headquarters from Omaha to Chicago. The move will cost Omaha more than 1,000 jobs. (Photo courtesy Flickr/Tyrone)
October 1, 2015 - 12:14pm

ConAgra has announced it is moving its headquarters out of downtown Omaha to downtown Chicago. When it does, the city will lose more than a thousand jobs and a longtime corporate resident.

The packaged food company that makes Hunt’s ketchup and Orville Redenbacher popcorn plans to cut 1,500 office jobs as part of the move. About 1,200 workers will remain in the Omaha offices. The layoffs will not include plant workers in Lincoln, Neb.

ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly, who joined the company this summer, said in a statement, “We are making difficult, but necessary, decisions to enhance productivity, drive standardization and enhance flexibility to deliver improved profitability.”

ConAgra produces many common consumer food brands including Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Slim Jim meat snacks, and Hunt's tomatoes. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)

The company has been under pressure by activist investors on its board to boost its stock performance.

Omaha mayor Jean Stothert said she hopes Nebraska’s low unemployment rate means workers will have an easier time finding new jobs.

“It’s 2.8 percent statewide and it’s 3 percent in Omaha and we have a labor shortage in Omaha,” Stothert said. “And so there are jobs available. Hopefully those jobs will match those employees that are going to be losing their job. But I know that doesn’t make it any easier for those people that are going to be losing their jobs at ConAgra.”

ConAgra has had a home in Omaha in the 1920s and is one of five companies in the city on the Fortune 500 list. The others are Union Pacific, Mutual of Omaha, Kiewit Construction, and Berkshire Hathaway.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said in a statement the state needs to work on being an attractive place to do business.

“While I regret ConAgra’s decision, it is a reminder why we must continually look for new ways to ensure our tax rates and incentive programs remain competitive,” Ricketts said.

But when ConAgra threatened to move in the late 1980s, state and local officials did roll out an extensive package including tax increment financing and removing buildings from the historic Omaha riverfront.

“There were 12 buildings down there that had landmark designation,” Mayor Stothert said. “We remediated an environmental area out there. At that time we used every incentive that we could to get them here.”

Stothert said she and others asked ConAgra executives what incentives would keep their headquarters in Omaha. She said they told her incentives weren’t the problem. In its statement, the company said being in Chicago will help it attract business talent and work with other consumer food companies based there.

ConAgra says it will begin moving its headquarters in summer 2016.



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