As ConAgra, a Fortune 500 company with Omaha roots going back nearly a century, considers a possible relocation to Chicago, some important things need to be considered by the company’s leaders and the public.
These considerations show why it’s appropriate for ConAgra, which currently has around 3,000 employees in Nebraska and Council Bluffs, to maintain major long-term ties to our city.
First, present-day Omaha has great strengths when it comes to economic infrastructure and vision — assets that can serve ConAgra well by keeping its operations and employees here.
The Omaha area earns high marks nationally for its pro-growth business environment, favorable tax climate and low business costs. Companies receive practical, well-coordinated support from institutions of higher learning and the Chamber of Commerce.
KPMG’s 2014 study of the nation’s most competitive cities for business put the cost of doing business in Omaha at 94.3 overall — more than 5 percent less than the U.S. baseline.
Omaha beats the national average, too, when it comes to the percentage of its adult population with a bachelor’s degree or higher — 32.7 percent here, compared with 31.7 percent nationally.
That’s not all. Nebraska has a state university system that is world-class when it comes to agricultural and food science. And right now, NU is in the middle of major investments that are expanding and strengthening its ag-science offerings.
Nebraska, in short, is well positioned to be a global leader in the training of the next generation of food-science specialists — precisely the kind of professionals that forward-looking companies such as ConAgra will need.
A second consideration: the longstanding ties connecting ConAgra and Omaha. The company and the city have grown up together. It’s a history that needs to be understood and appreciated.
Just as ConAgra over the decades reached one benchmark after another (marking its entry as a global corporation by changing its name from Nebraska Consolidated Mills to ConAgra in 1971; listing its common stock on Wall Street shortly thereafter; and expanding and adjusting its corporate holdings), so Omaha itself has grown from a modest-sized community into a Midwestern urban center that consistently earns impressive marks nationally for its achievements and ambition.
A third consideration: As World-Herald reporting has explained in recent days, over the years Omaha and the Nebraska state government have gone to great lengths to provide ConAgra with major support.
In the 1980s, the Nebraska state government overhauled its tax incentives policy to accommodate ConAgra’s situation. And the city faced no small controversy when it agreed to ConAgra’s request to convert Jobbers Canyon into the present-day headquarters campus and park.
Omaha and ConAgra share deep connections. It makes sense for the company to take these ties into consideration in looking to the future and making a responsible, practical decision about where it wants to grow in the coming years.