Thursday, October 03, 2013

These little town blues…ADM bids Decatur adieu

Apparently the executives at Archer Daniel Midlands got sick of the smell of soy sauce. Of eating at the same couple of restaurants. Of driving three hours to get to an airport with runways that can accommodate a 737, a theater playing the touring production of Jersey Boys, a Justin Bieber concert. Of having no place to shop where you don’t get met at the door by an aging greeter in a polyester vest. Of living in a city that was last home to a professional sporting team in 1920, when the Decatur Staleys – named after the local starch producer – (Walter) decamped to Chicago to start bearing down as the Chicago Bears. Of having their recruits turn up there nose at coming to Decatur – and not just at that smell of soy sauce.

Maybe they just plain didn’t want to live in what is the largest city in the United States:

…without citywide mandatory trash service. Trash service, although mandated by ordinance, is strictly voluntary and handled by private contractors, not unlike a small town level of service. Resultingly, city staff issued estimates in 2010 that over 2,000 residential addresses have no trash service and widespread dumping in alleys has been described by the Macon County Health Department as a major public health hazard. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Well, that an the lack of nearby ocean would be enough to scratch Decatur off of my list, but there’s something to be said about a city that has as its motto: "Decatur, We Like it Here."

Modest, understated, decidedly non-pompous.

This self-effacing tagline replaced the slightly more boastful and puffed-up "The Pride of the Prairie".

There’s a third motto in the running as well. That’s the unofficial one: “The Soybean Capital of the World,” which is a bit more plausible and defensible than some of Boston’s unofficial tags: “Hub of the Universe” (how so?), “Athens of America” (in just which respect?).

Boston’s official motto doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue: “Sicut patribus, sit deus nobis.” (Translation: "God be with us as he was with our fathers.")

As for Decatur, whatever it calls itself, it will no longer be the HQ of Archer Daniels Midland.Last week, ADM execs:

…called 15 civic leaders to lunch…to break the news that it's moving its headquarters—along with about 100 jobs—to a bigger city. (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

Which. from the Decaturian perspective, was bad news – good news: the humiliation of getting dumped as ADM’s corporate headquarters, but the relief that they’ll only be losing 100 jobs. (Of course, the folks filling those 100 jobs are the types that are apt to do things like sit on the local hospital board, chair the United Way, support the good restaurants in town…)

Reminders of the company and its products are ubiquitous in Decatur…from the Soy City Motel to the Soy Capital Bank to the main radio station, WSOY. ADM's plants turn soybeans, corn and other crops into products like fuel and food additives and imageanimal feed. The ones in Decatur also produce a noticeable aroma. "Some days, it smells like old french fries, and other days like soy sauce," said one employee.

AMD has had its HQ in Decatur since 1969. Prior to that it was in Minneapolis. (Ah, the good old days, when a company would move from a reasonably large and cosmopolitan area to Smallville.)

AMD hasn’t declared where it’s going just yet. Chicago is in the running (and is a logical choice – driving distance to the soy beans, and home to everything anyone could possibly want in a city, with the exception of the ocean and some hills, and, for the namby-pamby types afraid of seasons, good weather).

Some Decaturites bristle at the suggestion that their town doesn't have enough to offer….

"There is a ton of stuff going on," said John Hawkins [of]  Doherty's [Pub and Pins]. "We have a zoo, and it's getting penguins. And there is great theater" in a nearby town. By contrast, "Drive 20 miles south, and you'll see a Podunk town. That's the middle of nowhere."

Did I really need a snobby Wall Street Journal reporter to put that quote about “getting penguins” in front of a snob like me?

I’m quite certain that the Decatur zoo-going public will completely and utterly enjoy those penguins, which are quite the charming little creatures to observe.

Alas, when it came to keeping AMD execs in town, the ‘guins were unfortunately too little, too late.

No comments: