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It shouldn’t take a bribe to sell ADM on Chicago

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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:08PM

Let’s understand why Archer Daniels Midland Co. is eager to move its headquarters from Decatur to Chicago.

Because Chicago is Chicago and Decatur is Decatur.

Must we spell this out and hurt the feelings of our small-town cousins? Let’s not rock their bass boats.

And let’s understand why ADM’s first choice for a new home appears to be Chicago rather than Minneapolis or some other suitor city.

Because Chicago is Chicago and Minneapolis is Minneapolis.

We like “A Prairie Home Companion,” too, but it’s no contest. The presence of one of the world’s most connected airports, O’Hare International, looks to us like reason enough for ADM, with its global reach, to choose Chicago.

It’s about time Chicago and Illinois understood and believed this. It is about time the city and state stop paying bribes, almost routinely, to corporations to move to town and stop making payoffs to corporations threatening to leave the state.

If ADM moves to Chicago rather than out of state, it will not be because the state buckled under to the company’s demand for roughly $20 million in tax incentives over the next 20 years. That’s pocket change for ADM, which racked up $89 billion in sales last year alone — though it is a significant amount of money to our half-broke state.

ADM is asking for the subsidy, in the form of being allowed to keep employees’ personal income tax withholdings, because everybody else has had a hand out, too, and it worked. Motorola Mobility, Sears Holding Corp., Navistar International and Ford Motor Co. all are allowed by the state to retain employee income tax withholdings. Other major companies, such as Boeing and MillerCoors, received city or state subsidies to come to town.

If ADM sticks around, it will be because Chicago, hub of the Midwest for financial and legal services, is good for business and a wonderful place to live. International travel will be easier. Recruitment of top talent will be easier. Convincing the spouse that this is a good move — “They’ve got great theater and superb schools and the best restaurants, honey” — will be easier. Chicago’s lifestyle charms for corporate executives, many of whom enjoy seven-figure salaries, should not be underestimated. ADM is not planning to move its factory operations from Decatur, only its executive suites, with about 100 executives to make the move and about another 100 employees to be hired.

Illinois needs to rethink its ad hoc strategy of corporate subsidies, rewarding this company but not that one, based mostly on who cries loudest. An overall better business climate should be the goal.

For that matter, Illinois and its neighbor states would be wise to call a truce on job poaching and work together as a region. When Illinois blows millions of dollars to lure a company from Indiana, only to see Indiana do the same, nobody but the two companies wins. But even a regional approach, as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a speech in Kansas City last month, is shortsighted. He said states and regions must understand — and proceed accordingly — that the right fight for jobs is really with other countries.

“I think a lot of folks think you’re creating jobs if you’re moving a company from Rhode Island to Tennessee or something,” Nixon said. “The competition is worldwide.”

At any level of competition, Chicago’s edge will never be how much money it or the state can dole out in bribes and payoffs. It will always be Chicago’s ability to offer companies and their employees — from the factory floor to the executive offices — a terrific place to do business, raise families and live well.

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