The trend continues: Food businesses keep moving headquarters to Chicago

by Dan Rafter

It happened again earlier this year: Food company Hickory Farms closed a 7,300-square-foot lease at 311 S. Wacker in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. This move was just the latest example of a food company moving its headquarters into downtown Chicago.

Hickory Farms, which was represented in its lease transaction by JLL, is relocating its headquarters from Toledo, Ohio, to Chicago.

Hickory Farms isn’t alone in this move. Other food companies have made the move to downtown Chicago, too, companies such as Kraft Heinz, Conagra Brands, Archer Daniels midland, Sara Lee’s Hilshire Brands and, of course, McDonald’s.

What is bringing these companies to Chicago?

Andrea Van Gelder, international director with JLL, said that Chicago offered a strong labor force and a great location in the center of the country.

“The executives with Hickory Farms looked at staying in Ohio. But they decided that the quality of the labor in Chicago and the image that Chicago represented fit the company best,” Van Gelder said. “That is why they decided to relocate here.”

Hickory Farms also has an existing manufacturing plant in Joliet. Moving the company’s headquarters closer to this plant was a positive, too, Van Gelder said.

JLL officials said that the prime location at 311 S. Wacker – an iconic office tower in the city boasting 1.4 million square feet of space – will help Hickory Farms attract and retain the best talent to its company.

“Hickory Farms is trying to reposition the brand and company,” Van Gelder said. “They want to provide the message that they are moving into a new age. They want to get the word out there that Hickory Farms is still here and is moving with the latest trends. Moving to this iconic office tower in Chicago is one way to do that.”

It’s not just food companies that are moving to downtown Chicago, of course. Companies of all types are relocating to the center of the city, said Molly Carroll, executive vice president with JLL.

The downtowns of major cities across the Midwest are attracting a growing number of people who want to live the urban lifestyle. These people want to live in apartments in the center of cities, walk to public transportation and ditch their cars. They want to be able to walk to restaurants, grocery stores, bars, theaters and, of course, their jobs.

As more people move to downtowns, more companies are setting up offices in these same downtown neighborhoods, Carroll said.

“What we are seeing is the younger population staying in the city and living in the city,” Carroll said.

“This whole work, live and play environment has become important for many people. Companies want to draw from this labor pool. That younger workforce is essential to Hickory Farms as it looks to reinvent itself. The company’s executives wanted to be in a 24/7 city close to transportation and entertainment. Chicago allowed them to check all those boxes. All of the nightlife, restaurants and amenities of downtown Chicago is attracting a lot of companies here. The area is so vibrant.”

The quality of 311 S. Wacker doesn’t hurt, either. The building has plenty of amenities designed to appeal to workers. It is also located near plenty of retail and food options.

“The building’s management has done an excellent job of listening to its tenant base and providing the amenities that has allowed it to be competitive in the downtown environment, Van Gelder said. “The chief executive officer of Hickory Farms thought it was the right image she wanted to provide for her people. Being in the West Loop and at 311 S. Wacker provides Hickory Farms with a great recruiting opportunity.”

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