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Harvesting Archer Daniels Midland HQ means bucks, bragging rights

Updated: October 25, 2013 6:27AM

“Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. …”

The phrase, should it become true, has dollar signs attached to it. It also involves a heavy dose of civic pride.

If Decatur-based ADM brings its global headquarters to Chicago, it would be the biggest corporate trophy to hit town since Boeing Co. in 2001. With its 2012 revenue of $90.6 billion, ADM would become the largest publicly traded company to call Chicago home.

It might get its logo on top of a downtown building. But beyond that, the facts behind the possible move might make a Chicagoan wonder what the fuss is about.

An ADM hub here, the company said, would involve 100 relocated jobs, then another 100 technology workers a while later. Those 200 jobs are fewer than you find in a mid-sized factory.

But to city officials and boosters of the local economy, they are jobs with a high “multiplier effect.” They are relatively high salaried positions, and the presence of the headquarters feeds other spending, from contracts with law and accounting firms to hotel stays and restaurant meals.

“When you add a corporate headquarters, it knits a lot of spending together and improves your business network. And that’s what makes the city globally competitive,” said a city source involved in talks with ADM.

An issue certain to draw scrutiny is whether ADM deserves governmental subsidies. The city source said the topic hasn’t been discussed because the company is still early in its headquarters search.

Boeing got a $61 million package of state and city money for its 500-employee headquarters, just a sliver of its 171,000 workers worldwide. Its aircraft assembly plants and other major operations are in Washington state, Missouri, South Carolina and California.

Proportionally, an ADM deal looks similar. The company has 30,000 workers, hundreds of plants for processing crops and a transportation network for getting food ingredients around the world.

However, ADM always has had a strong Chicago link. It operates a large brokerage dealing in commodities on the Chicago markets.

The city draws its strength from Midwestern agriculture and manufacturing, using its superior connections first in water, then in railroads, highways and air routes, to ship goods to their destinations. The ADM business is a microcosm of Chicago.

Getting the headquarters also provides bragging rights for city leaders who often must address murder rates or budget crises.

Paul O’Connor, who works in the urban design practice at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, said he pitched ADM on a Chicago move a few years ago when he headed World Business Chicago, a public-private group aimed at attracting new companies.

“It’s certainly worth it to get a corporate headquarters like that. You keep on building the base and downtown is feeding on itself,” O’Connor said.

Getting ADM promises ripple effects for the city as other businesses look at what brought it here, factors such as transportation connections and a talented labor pool, said MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Barrett also said ADM has been a leading investor in intermodal, or rail-to-truck, transportation links. She said it could have an influence in Chicago, where her group has studied ways to improve the region’s rail bottlenecks.

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