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Chiquita moving HQ to Charlotte after NC OKs deal

RALEIGH (AP) — Banana giant Chiquita Brands International confirmed Tuesday it will move its global headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte after a North Carolina economic development panel approved an incentives deal worth more than $22 million.
The state Economic Investment Committee voted Tuesday in favor of the deal, which includes more than $20 million in state incentives and more than $2 million from local government to bring at least 375 high-paying jobs to North Carolina by 2014.
“We had to compete and compete hard for this company,” Gov. Beverly Perdue said at a news conference in Charlotte announcing the move.
Committee members said moving Chiquita’s headquarters, along with research and development laboratories, will eventually bring a total of about 417 jobs to the area as part of an overall investment of around $14 million. The jobs are supposed to pay an average of about $107,000.
Committee members said the incentives were needed to give Charlotte an edge over Ohio, Florida and Louisiana. Another key factor in the company’s decision was the greater access to foreign flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the assortment of those flights, according to CEO Fernando Aguirre, who spoke at the news conference.
“Charlotte provided the most compelling economic opportunity for Chiquita by far,” he said.
Aguirre praised Cincinnati and Ohio for providing a home for the company since 1987, but said the move to Charlotte will, among other things, save Chiquita more than $4 million a year in operating costs.
“Times change, and the fact is, we needed to make decisions that would help our business not just for the short term, but also for the long term,” he said.
The move should be complete by the end of 2012, Aguirre said, although he expected most employees would be in Charlotte by next summer.
With operations across the globe, Chiquita has more than 21,000 employees worldwide.
The company this month reported a $29 million third-quarter loss due to higher expenses and lower revenue. Profits were $61 million in 2010, down from $91 million the previous year.
The company is in a cost-cutting drive. Ohio officials said they were unwilling to go as far to keep Chiquita in Cincinnati, where it employs about 400 workers, as North Carolina was to lure it away.
“The company has issues beyond what incentives can address,” said Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“When it’s a priority to make sure incentive packages begin returning an investment for taxpayers as quickly as possible, we’re not going to be irresponsible and give away the store to try and keep a company that fundamentally doesn’t want to be here or which has already made up its mind to leave”

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