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N.C. Approves Plan To Steal Chiquita From Ohio

North Carolina has approved $22 million in incentives to bring in 375 jobs, which pay an average of $107,000, in what they say is a "done deal."

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina economic development panel has approved an incentives deal worth more than $22 million to bring the global headquarters of banana giant Chiquita Brands International from Cincinnati to Charlotte.

The state Economic Investment Committee voted Tuesday to approve 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.

The company didn't immediately respond to messages left seeking comment Tuesday, but state Commerce Department spokesman Tim Crowley said the incentives deal basically formalizes the plan.

"This isn't exploring," he said. "Essentially, it's a done deal."

A formal announcement of the deal was expected to be made by officials including Gov. Beverly Perdue later Tuesday in Charlotte.

Members of the committee said the move of Chiquita's headquarters, along with research and development laboratories, will eventually bring a total of about 417 jobs to the area. 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 and assortment of foreign flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

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 and Ohio officials said they were unwilling to go as far as North Carolina to keep Chiquita in Cincinnati, where it employs about 400 workers.

"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"

The main markets for the produce company's bananas, bagged salads and snacks are North America and Europe. Its main banana producers are in Latin America. Chiquita has management operations on all three continents.

"The improved air accessibility to primary destinations in Latin America and Europe and access to an experienced international labor force that supports Chiquita's long-term goals" were key elements to the company looking at a move to Charlotte, said Susan Rather, who coordinates North Carolina's key incentives grant program.

Chiquita also considered staying in Cincinnati or moving to Louisiana or South Florida, which prompted North Carolina to offer its combination of grants, tax breaks and worker training, Rather said.

A Florida site offered great airline connections to Latin America and Europe and a concentration of Spanish-speaking businesses that offer a pool to recruit bilingual talent with international business experience, Rather said. Louisiana offered to reimburse the company for its employee relocation and recruiting expenses, and to subsidize the cost for air transport to Europe and Latin America, Rather said.

Charlotte's competitors "have demonstrated significant aggressiveness in providing upfront cash to help offset the tremendous cost burden in relocating Chiquita's international headquarters, which surpass North Carolina's offer," Rather said.

If the company meets its hiring and investment goals over 11 years, it could collect $20.2 million from North Carolina and about $2.5 million more from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Chiquita has been based in Cincinnati since 1987, when it moved from New York. In 2005, the company considered moving its headquarters, but decided then to remain in Ohio.

Charlotte was publicly discussed earlier this year as a possible new home for Chiquita's headquarters by the company, which has a lease extension running through 2012 on its namesake headquarters building in downtown Cincinnati.


Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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