Wichita City Council members approved and hailed an agreement to provide about $20 million in subsidies for Cargill Protein’s new downtown headquarters Tuesday.
They also invited a Cargill executive to the podium to criticize an Eagle story raising questions about the company’s job guarantees.
The council’s 6-0 vote solidifies an agreement in which Cargill will get an estimated $13.6 million in property tax breaks over the next 10 years, plus $6.5 million in city funds for allowing the public to use Cargill’s parking garage on evenings and weekends.
The agreement also guarantees Cargill expedited review of its building plans, an $85,000 break on permit fees and the assignment of a city official to act as a project manager and ombudsman for the company in its dealings with City Hall.
The new 170,000-square-foot headquarters will be built at 825 E. Douglas on the former Eagle site.
The agreement was passed as an emergency action by the council to allow Cargill to finalize its project funding this week.
Mayor Jeff Longwell said the city and state won “an intense battle” to keep the agricultural titan in Wichita, where it has outgrown the current downtown headquarters for Cargill Protein, the company’s meat division.
“There are a lot of cities that would love to have a corporation such as Cargill in the heart of their city,” Longwell said.
“They (Cargill) did a very, very thorough process of vetting all of the cities that had put in proposals for Cargill to move to their city,” he said. “And I can tell you this, there were cities that were willing to spend tens of millions of dollars in cash.”
Council member Janet Miller asked Tom Windish, a Cargill executive who was in the audience, to come to the podium to respond to a story in Tuesday’s Eagle about a potential loophole in the jobs commitment that Cargill is guaranteeing at its headquarters.
The agreement between Cargill and the city commits Cargill to employing 700 to 750 people at its headquarters for its first three years there, rising to 800 in years four and five.
It also commits Cargill to an average yearly wage of $66,814 for its employees during that five-year period.
A close reading of the agreement shows that to meet those commitments, Cargill could count part-time or temporary employees who work as little as one day in the headquarters building, and annualize their wages as if they were full-time employees who were there all year.
“What the paper did was take one little counting measure and turn that into a speculation of bad behavior,” Windish said. “It is a counting mechanism. That came from the state government.”
He said Cargill will prove its employment numbers to the city and state by providing an annual “snapshot” count of employment on a single day at the headquarters building.
“I can’t imagine a business ever hiring a part-time person for one day to meet a number,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. It just kind of shows the ignorance of what it takes to run a business and what this agreement and what the spirit of this agreement is, and that’s investment.”
Cargill has said it plans to spend about $60 million on developing its headquarters, and committed to spending $45 million in its agreement with the city.
Jeff Fluhr, President of the Greater Wichita Partnership, thanked Cargill for making that investment in downtown Wichita.
He said the company’s headquarters will be a major addition to the Douglas corridor, which he called “our Michigan Avenue,” a comparison to the famed commercial boulevard of Chicago.
“If you walk down Douglas today, it is a different corridor than it was just three years ago,” Fluhr said.