CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The state of Ohio appears to be fighting back against Charlotte's efforts to land the corporate headquarters of banana giant Chiquita and its 400 high-paying jobs.
We are in dialog with the company, said Katie Sabatino, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Development. We don't announce the details.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Wednesday that an incentive package for Chiquita Brands International would be presented to the Cincinnati City Council this week.
The Charlotte City Council met in closed session Monday night, and voted 8-2 to tentatively approve roughly $1 million in incentives, as part of an overall package that could be between $4 million and $4.5 million, according to multiple sources familiar with negotiations.
Council members were told that Boca Raton, Fla., was also being considered as a company headquarters. Six years ago, the company considered moving to Atlanta, but decided to stay in Ohio.
It's unclear if Atlanta is being considered this time.
Boca Raton, Fla., out?
The Palm Beach Post reported Wednesday that Chiquita wanted $15 million in incentives, but that was more than Palm Beach County was willing to offer. The newspaper quoted Boca Raton Mayor Susan Welchel as saying the company said adios when south Florida couldn't meet their demands.
Chiquita's decision appears to be based not only on money, but also on the quality of air service. Delta has slashed service at its Cincinnati hub, concerning Ohio business leaders.
Boca Raton is close to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, one of five U.S. ports where Chiquita imports bananas. It's also an hour away from Miami International Airport, which has the most flights to Latin America of any U.S. airport.
Council move controversial
In negotiations with Charlotte, Chiquita asked for more money than the package that was given a tentative OK Monday. But the City Council was told in closed session that its offer would keep the city in the running.
Chiquita has 330 people who work at its downtown Cincinnati headquarters. The company has said a move would bring 400 jobs to Charlotte, with an average salary of $100,000. It's reportedly interested in either an uptown or Ballantyne location.
Council members met Monday for more than an hour about the incentive deal, which was controversial.
Members reportedly struggled with the company's request that it receive some of the money up front. Charlotte typically gives companies property tax reimbursements after they have invested in the city.
In addition, Chiquita's history also concerned some council members.
In 2007, the company agreed to pay a $25 million fine to the U.S. Justice Department for paying paramilitary groups in Colombia $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004.
The company has said the payments to the groups were akin to extortion, and that company officials complied to protect workers on banana fields. But the right-wing and left-wing groups committed atrocities against Colombians, and at least one group was labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
Officials familiar with the discussions said Charlotte's struggling local economy persuaded council members to pursue the company despite its baggage.
Bank of America announced this week it would cut 30,000 jobs companywide over several years, which could be a further blow to the city of Charlotte, where the unemployment rate is near 10 percent. The bank hasn't said how many jobs would be cut in Charlotte.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx didn't return messages from the Observer Thursday.
Chiquita's bananas are grown mostly in Latin America. The company's headquarters has been in Cincinnati since the mid-1980s, when investor Carl Lindner moved it from New York City.
Chiquita has banana farms across the world, according to the company website. But most of its company-owned farms are in Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.
Air access could be key
Cincinnati's airport has no nonstop flights to Latin America, and only one Europe flight, to Paris.
US Airways, the dominant carrier at Charlotte/Douglas International, has limited flights to Latin America, but it does fly nonstop to San Jose in Costa Rica, where Chiquita has a regional headquarters.
US Airways also flies to Frankfurt, Germany and five other European cities from Charlotte, and its partner airline, Lufthansa, flies to Munich.
Chiquita spokesperson Ed Loyd said having a flight to Frankfurt is critical to the company because it's an important European business hub. Delta no longer flies to Frankfurt from Cincinnati.
The company's European headquarters, with 100 employees, is near Geneva, Switzerland. US Airways and Delta don't fly to Geneva.
Chiquita's five domestic ports - in Wilmington, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Gulfport, Miss., and Los Angeles - are all reachable with nonstops from Charlotte.
The company's salad subsidiary, Fresh Express, has five plants in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Harrisburg, Pa., and Salinas, Calif. All are reachable by nonstops from Charlotte except Salinas.