OAK BROOK, Ill. — Visitors to the McDonald’s wooded corporate campus enter on a driveway named for the late chief executive Ray Kroc, then turn onto Ronald Lane before reaching Hamburger University, where more than 80,000 people have been trained as fast-food managers.
Surrounded by quiet neighborhoods and easy highway connections, this 86-acre suburban compound adorned with walking paths and duck ponds was for four decades considered the ideal place to attract top executives as the company rose to global dominance.
Now its leafy environs are considered a liability. Locked in a battle with companies of all stripes to woo top tech workers and young professionals, McDonald’s executives announced last year that they were putting the property up for sale and moving to the West Loop of Chicago where “L” trains arrive every few minutes and construction cranes dot the skyline.
In Chicago, McDonald’s will join a slew of other companies — among them food conglomerate Kraft Heinz, commodities giant ADM and telecommunications firm Motorola Solutions — all looking to appeal to and be near young professionals versed in the world of e-commerce, software analytics, digital engineering, marketing and finance.
Such relocations are happening across the country as economic opportunities shift to a handful of top cities and jobs become harder to find in some suburbs and smaller cities.
Aetna recently announced that it will relocate from Hartford, Conn., to Manhattan; General Electric is leaving Connecticut to build a global headquarters in Boston; and Marriott International is moving from an emptying Maryland office park into the center of Bethesda.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said the old model where executives chose locations near where they wanted to live has been upturned by the growing influence of technology in nearly every industry. Years ago, IT operations were an afterthought. Now, people with such expertise are driving top-
level corporate decisions, and many of them prefer urban locales.
“It used to be the IT division was in a back office somewhere,” Emanuel said. “The IT division and software, computer and data mining, et cetera, is now next to the CEO. Otherwise, that company is gone.”
The migration to urban centers threatens the prosperity outlying suburbs have long enjoyed, bringing a dose of pain felt by rural communities and exacerbating stark gaps in earnings and wealth that Donald Trump capitalized on in winning the presidency.
McDonald’s may not even be the most noteworthy corporate mover in Illinois. Machinery giant Caterpillar said this year that it was moving its headquarters from Peoria to Deerfield, which is closer to Chicago. It said it would keep about 12,000 manufacturing, engineering and research jobs in its original home town. But top-
paying office jobs — the type that Caterpillar’s higher-ups enjoy — are being lost, and the company is canceling plans for a 3,200-person headquarters aimed at revitalizing Peoria’s downtown.
“It was really hard. I mean, you know that $800 million headquarters translated into hundreds and hundreds of good construction jobs over a number of years,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis (R) said.
Long term, the corporate moves threaten an orbit of smaller enterprises that fed on their proximity to the big companies, from restaurants and janitorial operations to subcontractors who located nearby.
Read more at Washington Post.