Omaha can point to a dozen reasons why it outperforms Chicago as a possible home for Archer Daniels Midland Co., the Fortune 500 agricultural commodities processor based in Decatur, Ill., that announced Monday it's looking for a home for a new 200-person global headquarters and technology center.
But Omaha can't compete with Chicago when it comes to the No. 1 reason ADM gave for its move — its need to connect with its global customers and employees.
“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,” ADM chief executive Patricia Woertz said.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport has 975 daily flights to 148 U.S. cities and 110 daily flights to 57 international cities, including Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Shanghai, China, where ADM has regional headquarters. Eppley Airfield by comparison has about 75 daily flights to 16 nonstop U.S. cities.
Chicago is believed to be a front-runner, and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, said he will do what he can to attract the headquarters, Crain's Chicago Business reported. The magazine also said St. Louis and Minneapolis are in the running. Emanuel's office said 20 corporate headquarters have relocated to Chicago during the mayor's tenure.
Omaha and Nebraska economic development officials wouldn't say whether they are making a bid for the corporate center. ADM plans to maintain a North American headquarters with 4,400 employees in Decatur, a central Illinois city of about 75,000 that is a three-hour drive from Chicago.
Nebraska Department of Economic Development spokeswoman Patty Wood said the department is aware of ADM's search but would not comment on whether the state is pursuing the firm.
“We're absolutely a great fit for a firm like that,” she said, mentioning other corporate headquarters in Nebraska, from Cabela's to ConAgra.
Karla Ewert said the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce is always interested in attracting new businesses — a recruiting team is in California this week — but she wouldn't say whether the chamber is pitching to ADM.
The chamber has made an effort to recruit Chicago-area businesses to Omaha before, and its economist Scott Strain listed several factors in Omaha's favor.
The cost of doing business in Omaha is 17 percent less than in Chicago, according to Moody's Analytics, and the cost of energy — a key factor in running a technology or data center — is 26 percent less here.
The cost of living in Omaha compared with Chicago is 24.5 percent lower, the Council for Community and Ecnomic Research finds. Rent for Class A office space is 46 percent cheaper here, Colliers International says.
Thanks to the impact of tax incentives, the Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska first, or lowest, among all states for tax burden on corporate headquarters new to the state.
Woertz also said ADM needs a location where it can attract employees with diverse skills, and where employees' family members can find career opportunities. Another consideration for ADM will be whether it can find information technology workers in its new location. The company will relocate 100 executive jobs, but also will be hiring 100 new IT staff members.
While there is a lot of turnover and many openings among IT positions in Omaha, there are enough workers and new graduates to fill those jobs, said Adam Haeder, vice president of information technology at AIM, the organization working to develop Omaha's technology infrastructure and career paths.
Combined with low power and land costs, Omaha is an ideal place to open a data center, he said.