Chicago Secures Conagra Foods Headquarters Relocation

ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) announced restructuring plans that includes the relocation of its headquarters to Chicago, accompanied by the elimination of approximately 1,500 positions of its office-based workforce.

Conagra Foods Headquarters

Conagra Foods Headquarters (photo- usc_ty/flickr)

As part of this move, ConAgra is taking up a lease for new office space in the Merchandise Mart, where it will house some 700 employees. This includes the company’s senior leadership team and certain functions of the Consumer Foods business, which are currently located in Omaha, NE and Naperville, IL.

While Nebraska loses the ConAgra headquarters, the region will still retain approximately 1,200 employees within key administrative functions, as well as research and development and supply chain management. ConAgra currently has about 3,000 employees located at facilities in Omaha and Lincoln in Nebraska and in Council Bluffs, IA.

The company will be closing its Naperville, IL office and relocating hundreds of the remaining jobs to the new Chicago offices in the Merchandise Mart.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said in a release that he is thrilled to welcome ConAgra Foods’ worldwide corporate headquarters to Illinois. “We look forward to the opportunities created by ConAgra’s decision to invest in Illinois, and welcome them to their new home,” added Gov. Rauner.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel added that “I am honored to welcome ConAgra Foods to the City of Chicago. By choosing Chicago as their new home, ConAgra Foods sees the same strengths that so many other companies see in relocating their headquarters here from our talent, to our transportation, to our quality of life.”

Sean Connolly, president and chief executive officer, ConAgra Foods, said that “We appreciate the strong support offered by both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner during this process of evaluating a move to Chicago.”

Illinois economic development incentives have previously been offered to the company in the form of EDGE tax credits to support its investment and job creation plans in Chicago. That was before the company started considering relocating its headquarters. Since then, both Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert have talked with the company’s leadership, but ConAgra did not ask for additional incentives to stay in Nebraska.

“The decision to move headquarters was solely based on the strategic needs of our business and was not a city-vs-city exercise,” added Connolly. Last month, ConAgra Foods announced a quarterly loss driven by a $1.95 billion charge for its private label business, which the company acquired for $5 billion in 2012.

The fallout in Omaha begins with the departure of Brenda Hicks-Sorensen as the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Hicks-Sorensen’s short term leading the agency barely lasted eight months.

“At this time, I want to thank Brenda for her service to the State of Nebraska. My administration and the Department of Economic Development will continue to prioritize growing Nebraska and aggressively building an agency centered on promoting Nebraska’s business friendly climate and encouraging investment in our state,” said Gov. Ricketts in a release announcing the leadership change at NEDED.

Cargill Plans $111M Investment in Columbus, NE, Relocates Ground Beef Production to WI, TX

Cargill announced plans for a $111 million investment that will enable the company to convert its ground beef patty production plant in Columbus, NE to a cooked meats facility. The ground beef operations will be relocated to other Cargill facilities in Fort Worth, TX and Butler, WI.


Cargill (photo –

Upon completion, the investment and the company’s conversion plans for the plant will prove beneficial for Nebraska economic development, but it will in the short-run impact 80 of the 250 existing jobs at the facility.

When the cooked meats facility is fully operational, the company says it will employ approximately the same number of people currently working at the ground beef plant.

Meanwhile, Cargill is providing each of the affected employees opportunities to fill open positions at other Cargill facilities in the region, and will support them with relocation if required. So while Columbus won’t gain or lose any jobs, the company will in effect be creating about 80 new jobs for the region.

The project will also lead to expansions of Cargill’s existing ground beef plants in Fort Worth and Butler. Approximately $27 million of the total investment will go toward these plants, where additional new production lines will be installed.

In a release announcing the project, Chris Roberts, president of Wichita, KS-based Cargill Value Added Protein, said that “This is a win-win for our customers, Cargill and the community, and something we believe is important for us to do to maintain our competitive edge in the marketplace going forward.”

John Niemann, president of Cargill Turkey and Cooked Meats, also located in Wichita, added that “This project, especially the investment we’re making in Columbus, is significant and exciting, and it represents our long-term commitment to current and future Cargill customers, as well as to the community.”

Founded in 1865 and headquartered in Minnetonka, in the Minneapolis suburbs, Cargill is now the largest privately-held corporation in the U.S. with $134.87 billion in sales and other revenue. The company has 152,000 employees in 67 countries, including 50,000 in North America.

Cargill’s 75 businesses are organized around four major segments – agriculture, food, financial and industrial products and services. They also develop and market sustainable products made from agriculture feedstocks.

“From Cargill’s humble beginning in rural Iowa during 1865, the company has maintained a deeply seated sense of responsibility to help feed and nourish people, and we are serious about doing so in a transparent and sustainable way that helps everyone in the value chain thrive,” added Niemann.

Sarpy County, Greater Omaha, Nebraska Economic Development Partnership Helps Travelers Open New Data Center

The Travelers Companies, Inc. held a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally open its new data center in Sarpy County, NE.

The Travelers Companies

The Travelers Companies (press photo –

Governor Pete Ricketts was joined at the ribbon cutting by Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, along with Sarpy County Board Chairman Brenda Carlisle and Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David G. Brown.

The 183,000-square-foot Tier III 4MW Travelers data center joins a growing data center cluster in Sarpy County that includes Yahoo!, Fidelity, Cabela’s and two facilities for Cosentry.

Gov. Ricketts said in a release that Nebraska continues to grow opportunities in technology-based customer service while creating new jobs, and added that this type of development can serve as inspiration for other growth industries in the state.

The Travelers project was supported by a broad partnership of state, regional and local organizations. The Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership put forward a number of sites in the metropolitan area that were suitable for data centers, including the one in Sarpy County Power Park that was ultimately selected by the company.

Discussion about the project began in late 2012, and when officials from Travelers came for their first site visit in Jan 2013, nearly 25 state and local economic development and utility officials were involved in providing assistance and information about the proposed sites and other needs.

After selecting the site, the company was assisted by the Sarpy County Economic Development Corporation with the land options and eventual purchase of the 140-acre tract. The company built the data center on a 41-acre parcel, with the rest available for future expansions.

Omaha Public Power District bought a five-acre parcel from Travelers and has built a new substation on the site capable of handling the power needs not just for the Travelers data center, but also other potential data centers that might be located in the area.

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development pitched in with state incentives in the form of site, building and development funds, and customized job training funds. Sarpy County is supporting the project through road construction and paving, sewer extensions and other infrastructure improvements around the data center site.

Madelyn Lankton, EVP and Chief Information Officer for Travelers, said in the release that they could not have chosen a better location to build this new data center, and added that they truly value the strong partnerships that have developed throughout this project.

The Greater Omaha Chamber’s Brown likewise noted that partnering with Travelers over the last couple of years has been a privilege. Brown added that the project highlights the advantages the region offers, including low cost power, a strong fiber network, competitive tax incentives, and a skilled workforce, topped off with the added benefit of infrastructure improvements.

NEDED, Lincoln Economic Development Partnership Secure Hudl Expansion

Sports coaching video software firm Hudl announced plans to build a new headquarters on Canopy Street in the West Haymarket area in Lincoln, NE.


Hudl (photo –

Supported by the City of Lincoln, the Lincoln Economic Development Partnership, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nelnet and other local partners, Hudl plans to create 300 high-tech jobs over the next three years.

The payroll and investment associated with the project will generate an estimated $140 million in annual economic activity.

Hudl is building the new headquarters in partnership with Nelnet (NYSE:NNI). Nelnet, an investor in Hudl, plans to make use of part of the building to support its own growth plans, including an expansion of its Lincoln-based software development team.

Hudl CEO David Graff said in a release announcing the project that what they’re most excited about in moving to the West Haymarket is how much it’s grown just in the last couple of years. Graff added that the City’s commitment to these developments has them proud to call Lincoln home and excited for the future of the West Haymarket.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said that not long ago, the West Haymarket was considered a brownfield site and some questioned the need for its redevelopment. The Mayor noted that this private development is just what they envisioned, as a place where entrepreneurs and growing firms could create jobs and attract talented employees, when they embarked on this massive undertaking.

Nelnet CEO Jeff Noordhoek likewise noted that they could have located their associates anywhere, but they are excited to be headquartered and growing in downtown Lincoln. Noordhoek added that through their investments and job growth in the city, they are helping to create a vibrant downtown community in which the best and brightest want to live in Lincoln and pursue a rewarding career.

Wendy Birdsall, president of the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development and the Lincoln Chamber, said that Hudl and Nelnet’s expansion in the Haymarket is a perfect example of the high-quality, high-tech jobs that continue to make a huge economic impact on the City.

Hudl was founded in 2006 by Graff and fellow University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduates Brian Kaiser and John Wirtz. It is now the fastest growing company in Nebraska, with more than 3.5 million users from 100,000 teams across 30 different sports worldwide. Hudl now has more than 150 employees at its headquarters in Lincoln. Another 80 of their employees operate out of offices in Omaha, Boston and London and remotely from far-flung places in New York, California and Texas.

Texas, Nebraska Awarded Site Selection Governor’s Cups

Site Selection magazine’s latest issue includes the annual Governor’s Cup rankings for states attracting the most new and expanded corporate facility projects, but there’s a twist this year – there are two Governor’s Cups being awarded.

Texas #1

Texas (photo –

The 657 qualifying Texas economic development projects in 2013 helped the Lone Star State win the Site Selection Governor’s Cup yet again.

Qualifying projects are those which have met at least one of the following criteria – project must create 50 or more new jobs; or require a capital investment not less than $1 million; or involve new construction that adds at least 20,000 square feet of space.

Gov. Rick Perry, who is getting his fifth Governor’s Cup, said that states are the laboratories of innovation, and Texas continues to be a beacon of opportunity for job creators and entrepreneurs.

Site Selection editor in chief Mark Arend said that areas compete aggressively for capital investment, and Texas’ latest first-place Governor’s Cup finish is evidence of a highly successful economic development strategy.

Texas was followed by Ohio with 480 projects, Illinois with 383, Pennsylvania with 348, and Michigan with 312 projects.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Adam Pollet said that moving up to third place in the Site Selection standings is great, but added that they aren’t going to be satisfied until Illinois is number one on the list.

The remaining five states in the top 10 list for number of corporate facility projects in 2013 are Georgia (299), North Carolina (223), Virginia (208), Florida (193) and Tennessee (187).

A new addition this year is a second Governor’s Cup list based on the number of projects per capita (per million). Nebraska topped this list with 109 projects, which means Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman gets the first per capita Governor’s Cup from Site Selection magazine.

Gov. Heineman said he was thrilled that Nebraska has earned the 2014 Governor’s Cup for economic development.

Gov. Heineman also said that he appreciates this new methodology, because the big states will always win if it’s only based on the number of projects, and added that a per capita measure is fairer to small and medium-sized states in that they can feel like they’re making progress.

Catherine Lang, director of the Nebraska Economic Development Department, said that earning the Governor’s Cup over this outstanding field confirms that the hard work of the state’s economic developers in combination with all the amenities Nebraska offers is getting noticed by corporate players in the global economy.

Nebraska was followed on the per capita list by Ohio, which placed second on this list as well. Louisiana was in third place, with Kentucky and Kansas rounding out the top five.

Site Selection also released its list of top metros for new and expanded facilities for 2013. This list was topped by Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI for MSAs with populations exceeding one million.

Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA topped the list of MSAs with populations between 200,000 and 1 million. For metro areas with populations below 200,000, the list was topped jointly by the Sioux City, IA-NE-SD; Altoona, PA; and Dubuque, IA metro areas.

NE, AK Universities Get NIST MEP Funding to Support Manufacturing

The NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) has awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Alaska Anchorage funding to shore up manufacturing support in both states.

NIST MEP impact

NIST MEP impact

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been awarded $600,000 and authorized to establish an MEP center.

The $600,000 represents half of the MEP center’s annual operating funding needs. The University is required to come up with matching funds from non-federal sources for the remaining half.

The second grant announced by MEP was a $150,000 funding award to the University of Alaska Anchorage, provided as a State Technology Extension Assistance Project.

This funding will assist the University assess the technical needs of small and mid-sized manufacturers in the state, as Alaska looks towards diversifying its manufacturing base.

This effort is being undertaken by the University on behalf of MEP, and may lead to the establishment of an MEP center in Alaska.

MEP is a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce, housed under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

MEP works with small and medium-sized manufacturers, helping them with innovation strategies, improvements, implementation of green practices, etc. that help the manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase sales, and save time and money.

In FY 2013 alone, MEP served 30,131 manufacturers. Manufacturers receiving MEP services reported 62,703 increased and retained jobs, cost savings of $1.2 billion and new client investments worth $2.6 billion. Not to mention $6.2 billion in retailed sales and another $2.2 billion in new sales.

MEP has worked with more than 76,000 manufacturers in the past 25 years, helping them rack up sales worth $79 billion and savings worth $12.8 billion.

MEP was first established in 1988, and has since helped create 636,000 jobs and more than $20 billion in investments in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Every dollar invested by the federal government through MEP generates $19 in new sales growth and $21 in new client investments. MEP helps create or retain one manufacturing job for every $1,978 of federal investment.

The new MEP center in Nebraska and another one possibly in the pipeline in Alaska will join a national network of 400 centers and field offices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, with a staff that includes more than 1,200 technical experts.

Tejas Tubular Steel Pipe Plant to Create 200 Jobs in Nebraska

Houston, TX-based Tejas Tubular Products Inc., has chosen Madison County, Nebraska as the site for a new tubular steel pipe manufacturing facility.

Tejas Tubular Products

Tejas Tubular Products (photo –

The company will begin construction on the 350,000-square-foot oil country tubular goods (OCTG) facility in the City of Norfolk this year, and expects the project to be completed by mid-2015.

Tejas Tubular is applying for state incentives for the project under Nebraska Advantage tier six, which requires a commitment to create a minimum of 50 new jobs and an investment of at least $109 million.

However, Tejas Tubular actually plans to hire more than 200 employees for the facility when it is fully operational.

In order to facilitate the project, Tejas Tubular has been approved for a package of state and local incentives including $1.4 million from the State of Nebraska under the Site and Building Development Fund, which offers financial assistance for infrastructure development and improvements, and for other pre-approved costs.

Tejas Tubular is also getting another $3.6 million from the City of Norfolk, as the City is authorized to use local tax dollars for economic development under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act.

Norfolk Mayor Sue Fuchtman said the project was made possible because the citizens of Norfolk have spoken through their votes, making economic development and growth a priority.  Mayor Fuchtman said that bringing Tejas Tubular to Norfolk was a monumental accomplishment for their community and for all of northeast Nebraska.

Max Tejeda, owner of Tejas Tubular Products, Inc., said they were impressed with Nebraska’s fiscally-conservative approach to doing business, and added that the City of Norfolk was also instrumental in convincing them to select this location.

The new facility will be producing casing, drill pipe and line pipe used by the oil and gas industry, with the steel required by Tejas Tubular being supplied by the Nucor Steel Bar Mill, also in Madison County.

Dirk Petersen, general manager of Nucor Steel Bar Mill, said their strategic partnership, as well as the location to markets, is a win-win for both companies. Peterson said it shows the Norfolk community’s commitment to business, creating American jobs and supporting American energy independence.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said in a statement that this investment is a good example of how Nebraska is moving forward as a desired, premier destination for companies looking to expand and create jobs.

Iowa, Nebraska Form Two-State Regional Economic Development Organization

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad came together in Omaha to sign an agreement to form a two-state, regional economic development organization as a collaboration between southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

Bob Kerrey Bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs

Bob Kerrey Bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs (photo –

The Omaha–Council Bluffs metropolitan area has a regional population exceeding 885,600, and thousands of these residents cross over for work across the Missouri River separating the two cities.

As per the agreement, the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership will be joined by regional organizations in Iowa including Advance Southwest Iowa – the freshly minted public-private partnership of the City of Council Bluffs.

Gov. Branstad said there is a national trend throughout the U.S. towards building mutually-beneficial economic development partnerships. He added that this type of regional approach would give them more clout on the national scene and help bring more jobs to southwest Iowa.

Gov. Heineman said a strong regional economy benefits both states, and added that one of the most exciting parts of this announcement was that the Greater Omaha EDP will now be able to provide inquiring companies and clients with more choices.

Other Iowa entities that will formally join the Greater Omaha EDP include the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, Iowa West Foundation, Pottawattamie County and the Western Iowa Development Association.

The Iowa West Foundation, which played a key role in the development of the two-state collaboration, announced a grant of $2.2 million over the next five years to support economic development through the new regional partnership and the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce.

Pete Tulipana, president and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation, said the foundation served as a convener of the Iowa partners to begin the dialogue on regional economic development.

Bob Mundt, president and CEO, Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, said the Iowa coalition inquired about joining the Partnership in early 2013 after observing the successes and synergies of communities working together as an economic development region.

The two-state partnership will be focusing on a five-year program that will include business retention and expansion, talent recruitment, and entrepreneurship and innovation.

J. Mac Holladay, CEO of Market Street Services which provides strategic economic development planning services, said no other two-state regional program is working on all three of these areas.

Advance Southwest Iowa’s newly hired executive director Mike Dellinger will have an office at the Greater Omaha Chamber so as to allow for a close working relationship with the entire Partnership team.

USDA Announces $11.8M in Rural Economic Development Funding

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $11.8 million in rural loans and grants to organizations across 11 states.

USDA rural development

USDA rural development (photo –

The announcement was made by John Padalino, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Administrator, while he was in Austin, Texas for the National Rural Economic Developers Association annual meeting.

The zero-interest funding is being provided to local utilities through the USDA Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program.

The utilities will then fund local projects that will help retain and create jobs in rural areas. There are 26 projects being funded in today’s announcement.

In Illinois, the EnerStar Electric Cooperative is getting a million dollar loan to help the Coshocton Grain Company buy grain handling equipment. This project will save five existing jobs and create four new ones.

In Nebraska, the City of Gothenburg is getting $300,000 grant that will go towards a loan fund for Gothenburg Memorial Hospital’s effort to modernize its electronic medical records system. This project will save four jobs and create three new ones.

In North Carolina, the French Broad Electric Membership Corporation is likewise getting a $300,000 grant for a loan fund that will be used to set up an advanced manufacturing school at a community college.

In South Dakota, Codington Clark Electric Cooperative, Inc. will get a $300,000 grant for a loan fund that will be used to construct a building for a business expansion that will create 75 new jobs.

In Tennessee, the Town of Erwin Board of Public Utilities is getting a $375,000 loan to buy an industrial property and 16 acres of land that will be used to attract new businesses to Unicoi County.

In the last five years or so, the REDLG program has helped create 25,000 rural jobs with the help of $200 million in economic development funding. In the same period, the program has helped establish or expand more than 900 business and community projects in rural areas.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA investments announced today would provide local organizations and rural businesses access to new markets and more capital, allowing them to increase hiring and expand.

Contact the USDA Rural Development State Office in your state to apply for funding under the REDLG program. Eligible projects include funding for business startup and expansions, incubators, community development, training facilities and other education program expenses, health care, etc.

Altoona, IA Inches Ahead in Bid for $1.5B Facebook Data Center

It was revealed during the weekend that the mysterious company scouting sites in Iowa and Nebraska for a $1.5 billion data center is actually Facebook.

Facebook data center in Oregon

Facebook data center in Oregon (photo –

Until now, this massive project with three $500 million phases had only been known as Project Catapult in Altoona, Iowa and Project Edge in Kearney, Nebraska.

The company has been considering its options and negotiating with local and state authorities in both states since early last year.

Facebook already has similarly large multi-facility data centers in North Carolina and Oregon, and is looking to add one in the middle of the country.

In plans filed with Altoona, the owner of the 200-acre Catapult Data Center site is listed as Hubbell Properties II, LC. The initial plan included three buildings, each between 350,000 to 380,000 square feet in size. The first phase was to involve construction of one 382,252 square feet building.

This plan was approved by the Altoona City Council in June 2012, extended in Dec 2012 and then re-approved in Feb 2013. Then the company filed an amended plan which further expands all three buildings to 466,500 square feet each. This amended plan was approved by Altoona in March 2013.

This week, both the Altoona City Council and the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board will be holding meetings to consider incentives for this project. Facebook has also apparently requested wind energy tax credits from Iowa, which will require new legislation.

Details about the incentives and jobs likely to be created by the data center, assuming Altoona lands the project, should be made clear after the meetings this week.

Meanwhile, back in Nebraska, Kearney has already spent close to $2 million to purchase and prepare a 165-acre site for the Project Edge data center. They are calling it the Tech oNE Crossing technology park.

Nebraska legislators have approved and passed legislation authorizing incentives for the project, including tax refunds for sales tax for construction material and equipment purchase, property tax exemptions, and other tax incentives. Lawmakers also directed Nebraska Public Power District to offer Project Edge low-cost power.

However, based on the flurry of activity by state and local officials in Iowa coupled with the company’s recent interest in getting approval for modified plans in Altoona, it looks like Iowa seems to be getting ready to snatch Facebook away from Nebraska.

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