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Sara Lee To Move Headquarters Back Into City

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with Ald. Bob Rioretti (2nd-Ward) , announces Sara Lee's plans for a new headquarters in Chicago. (Credit: Craig Dellimore/WBBM Newsradio)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with Ald. Bob Rioretti (2nd-Ward) , announces Sara Lee’s plans for a new headquarters in Chicago. (Credit: Craig Dellimore/WBBM Newsradio)

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Updated 12/8/11 – 5:34 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A major employer is moving part of its corporate headquarters back to the city.

As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Sara Lee plans to move its meats business headquarters into an office building at 400 S. Jefferson St. in the West Loop, five years after abandoning the city for west suburban Downers Grove.

“This is a huge win for the city of Chicago, as Sara Lee Corporation has chosen the city to be the home of the new North American Meats company,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The new company will bring these high-paying jobs to the city, as well as its first-class brands and leadership in this key sector.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Emanuel announced Sara Lee’s plans Thursday morning. He said the move will bring 500, and possibly 650 jobs, to the city.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the mayor called it a battle for jobs. More than 10,000 of them have been lured to Chicago during his first six months in office, many of them from the suburbs.

Emanuel’s answer to one question in particular on Thursday spoke directly to the competitive spirit and successes of the mayor and his two bothers.

CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall called it “a rare moment of unguarded honesty.”

Asked if he considers Chicago to be at war with the suburbs over jobs, Emanuel said, “No. it’s just, we won. I don’t consider it a battle or a war. … It’s not like battleship, man.”

When a reporter commented that winning applies to battle, the mayor said, “no it doesn’t. It applies to being the DNA of an Emanuel.”

The battlefield this time was the headquarters of Sara Lee, the Chicago born and bred conglomerate, which had moved to Downers Grove six years ago.

Sara Lee moved its headquarters from downtown Chicago to Downers Grove in 2005. The following year, the company closed its Superior Coffee roasting plant in Chicago, and in 2008 it closed its meat processing plant at 1000 W. Pershing Rd. and left the kosher meat business.

Earlier this year, Sara Lee sold off its international household and body care business, and its North American Fresh Bakery business, to focus exclusively on its core product of food and beverages.

Now Sara Lee is bringing new offices back to Chicago. Next year, the company is splitting in two — with one company focused on meats, the other on international coffee and tea.

The meat company headquarters will be headquartered in Chicago, the coffee company will be headquartered in Europe.

“You know (we) lost today, but the war or the competition for viable, vibrant businesses is one that’s been raging for a long time,” Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully said.

This time it was over the soon-to-be split off food companies of Sara Lee. Its meat business — including Ballpark, Hillshire Farm and Jimmy Dean — will be headquartered in a South Loop building.

“We need to create a lot of buzz and it’s very difficult to get that buzz and energy in an area (Downers Grove) where it’s very quiet,” said Sara lee executive chairman Jan Bennink.

For Emanuel, it was more proof that his “Field of Dreams” strategy – “If you build it, they will come” – is working.

“By creating safe streets, strong schools and stable finances, businesses will have the confidence to come in and invest in the city and create jobs and economic opportunity,” Emanuel said.

The move will bring 500 to 650 jobs to Chicago by early 2013. Downers Grove officials pointed out Sara Lee moved a lot more jobs out of Chicago to Downers Grove in 2005.

“Quite frankly, I’m much more pleased to have won the battle in 2006 and won that Sara Lee into our community, than to have so-called lost the one today for a much smaller, different company in 2011,” Tully said.

Everyone was putting the best face on the move by Sara Lee.

Tully claimed Sara Lee will keep a state of the art research and development facility in Downers Grove.

Emanuel claimed another victory on the employment battlefield, even if he had to use tax increment financing incentives for the first time; a $5 to $6.5 million incentive for the downsized but totally food-focused Sara Lee unit, which Emanuel gleefully welcomed home — this time, he said, to stay.

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