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Chiquita Brands Moving Global Headquarters to Charlotte, NC

Chiquita Brands International has announced that it will move its global headquarters to Charlotte, NC next year, bringing more than 400 jobs. Charlotte waged a fierce site selection battle with Cincinnati, OH, currently home to the banana giant’s HQ.

The North Carolina city won the prize by offering more than $22 million in state and local government incentives and the promise of easier international travel from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, which has grown as the airport near Chiquita’s current headquarters in Cincinnati has downsized.

Chiquita, which had $3.2 billion in sales last year, is negotiating to lease five or six floors in the NASCAR Plaza office tower adjoining the racing league’s Hall of Fame, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The incentives package includes an estimated $16.1 million grant from the state, equal to 75 percent of the company’s state’s income tax withholding over the next 11 years. The company can also qualify for $1.3 million in state tax credits, and will receive $2.5 million from the state’s One North Carolina Fund, given to encourage business expansion. Mecklenburg County and Charlotte will match the $2.5 million state grant with cash grants paid over the coming years. A further $560,000 could be available in research and development tax credits and funds for training.

The company’s investments in its Charlotte facilities are expected to total about $14 million. In addition to the headquarters, the company will also move its research and development to Mecklenburg County, and might open a second location to house those facilities, the Observer reported.

At the NASCAR Plaza, which has struggled to lease office space and faced foreclosure proceedings last year, Chiquita branding will feature prominently on and in the building,

“This is a diversification, really an unprecedented diversification, in jobs, investment and development in our economic center,” Charlotte Center City Partners President Michael Smith said.

Chiquita Chairman and CEO Fernando Aguirre, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue and other state and local politicians announced the relocation this week at the Charlotte Chamber.

“We are very confident that Charlotte is the optimal place for our business,” said Aguirre. He said Cincinnati treated the company “extremely well” for more than 20 years.

“But times change, and we needed to make the decisions that will help our business in the longterm. … We’ve got to move on,” he added.

The company is set to bring about 417 jobs to the city, including accountants, human resources staff, IT workers and finance specialists. About 300 of those will be jobs from the company’s Cincinnati headquarters. Many of the other 100-plus jobs will be coming from Salinas, Calif., the headquarters of the former Fresh Express, bought by Chiquita in 2005. Some jobs will remain in Cincinnati, including people who deal with the Kroger supermarket chain.

Charlotte’s battle with Cincinnati over the Chiquita HQ was played out in public, with the North Carolina city waging an aggressive campaign. Ironically, Charlotte and Cincinnati share the same nickname — the Queen City.

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