Cargill to keep headquarters in Wichita, but new site still unknown

Following weeks of anxiety across the community, Cargill announced Tuesday that it will keep the headquarters of its meat business and its 800 employees in Wichita.

Cargill vice president Brian Sikes explained the company’s decision during a news conference Tuesday at the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Sam Brownback, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and Charlie Chandler, co-chair of the Greater Wichita Partnership, also spoke during the news conference.

Sikes’ announcement left unanswered a second question: Where the company would build inside the city limits of Wichita. He deflected several questions about which sites the company preferred and said company staff would start working on the problem immediately. He said it expects to move to the new building in 2018.

The company is moving because its headquarters at 151 N. Main was no longer suitable. The company has been in the 110,000-square-foot, 10-story building for about 30 years.

The company also has about 100 other employees in Wichita in non-meat related businesses that were not affected by the announcement.

Sikes said the company “needed a new building, an environment for our employees that would create an atmosphere of innovation, an atmosphere of engagement.”

He said Cargill explored sites in Texas and Colorado, but decided on Wichita based on a large number of factors, particularly the affect on its employees. A welcoming new building and a welcoming community are a winning combination in keeping existing staff with roots in Wichita and recruiting new ones here in the future, he said.

“There is a work ethic, a sense of community and sense of values that the people of Wichita, the people in Kansas and people in this region bring that we believe can be a competitive advantage and a culture that aligns very well with Cargill’s,” Sikes said. “We believe those, aligned with a great new building, are a winning model as we compete with global players.

“So we didn’t choose Wichita because we thought we could survive,” he said. “We chose Wichita because because we will thrive here.”

The announcement follows several tense weeks in Wichita as people awaited a decision. Cargill is one of the city’s largest, best paying and most prestigious companies. It also is an involved corporate citizen in Wichita, donating to local charities and nonprofits.

In late March, The Eagle reported that the Minneapolis, Minn.-based company was looking to move its headquarters. Its building on Main Street is home to four headquarters for the company, including its beef business; its turkey and cooked meat business, which includes deli meats; its value-added protein services, including its North American egg business; and its food distribution.

The company’s large beef business has been under financial pressure in recent years because of the agricultural cycle and increasing global competition, and the company has been searching for ways to improve its operations long-term. Part of that included whether Wichita allows it to attract new talent for long-run growth.

Beginning late last year the company went through a rigorous analysis, including hiring an outside firm, of where its protein divisions should be located, Sikes said. It contacted state and local officials about incentives as part of the analysis.

He thanked Brownback for his aggressiveness in reaching a deal.

“From Day 1, (Brownback) reached out and said that he valued the relationship and he had every intent to keep that relationship and do everything he needed to do, and that was influential,” Sikes said.

He deferred questions about the amount or structure of incentives to state and local officials.

Kansas Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave said he couldn’t release that information.

Chandler said he wasn’t familiar enough with the details to say what the incentives were.

Sikes said that government incentives were necessary, but were just one of perhaps 20 factors that Cargill considered in its decision.

Longwell said the city only got official confirmation that the company would stay Tuesday morning. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Cargill officials met with employees and told them the company would remain in Wichita.

At Tuesday’s news conference, there were plenty of thank yous and handshakes all around from the roomful of corporate, local and state officials.

“I’m really ecstatic about Cargill staying here,” Brownback said. “They are in the right space in supplying food around the world … and this will be their global headquarters.”

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis

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