When Councilman Pat McDaniel heard from the state's biggest company that it was moving the corporate headquarters from here, after nearly 45 years, he lowered his head and reached for a slice of cheesecake. Comfort food, McDaniel explained later.
He grabbed the cheesecake at a local restaurant where he and about a dozen others, including the mayor and city manager, had been summoned by Archer Daniels Midland Co. Officials from the $89 billion grain company, with operations in more than 75 countries, had waited to spring their announcement until the city officials had finished their meals.
Those gathered around the table sat in silence. They were told the move wouldn't be as devastating as the media would make it out to be. The ADM officials noted that only 100 people would move from Decatur to the new headquarters.
"It really, really hurts," McDaniel said afterward, even though ADM said 4,400 of its workers would remain in Decatur, along with three plants that process soybeans and corn.
ADM said it will commit $250,000 a year for three years to fund an enhanced public-private partnership and unified marketing campaign for economic development in Decatur and Macon County. The company also will give $500,000 a year for five years to the school district and continue to give $1 million annually to Decatur and Macon County community support for at least 10 years.
ADM didn't say where it was moving its headquarters, but Chicago is the preferred location, sources said. Legislation was introduced Friday in Springfield that would provide ADM significant financial incentives for maintaining its headquarters in Illinois. A bill sponsored by Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, would give ADM credits against its payroll taxes and reduce its electric bills for keeping its headquarters in the state.
Founded in 1902 in Minneapolis, ADM had been run by the Andreas family for 35 years. But in 2006, its board passed over insiders to name Patricia Woertz chief executive. She had spent most of her career at California-based Chevron Corp., and some locals feel since then that she never warmed up to Decatur as her home. So they weren't surprised she'd want to move the headquarters to a larger city like Chicago.
Victoria Podesta, an ADM spokeswoman, dismissed such speculation. ADM is a global company and it doesn't make decisions based on personal feelings, she said. "This is a decision about positioning the company where it can effectively do business."
Still, many feel the decision to move is a big blow, the latest in an industrial-ag city with a 13 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Labor Department, making it near the worst in Illinois.
Decatur also has lost some 20,000 residents from a high of about 94,000 in 1980. Factories once boomed in Decatur, and locals still talk about the days when workers could get fired from one plant and land a new job the next day.
Now, people have to leave town to find a new job, said Willie Cook, 62.
Cook said he expects the impact to be far greater than what the company has said. Though only 100 jobs will be relocated, Cook said he wondered what would happen to assistants, secretaries and other people whose jobs inside the company support top management.
"Everybody is upset," Cook said outside the Family Video store on the industrial side of town where homes are smaller, single-story structures. "The town has plummeted from when I was working."
Cook worked at a Caterpillar plant in the city's northeast corner near where ADM and its competitor Tate & Lyle also have plants. Here, the sweet and pungent odor from those companies' large grain processors is strongest. A few locals call it the "sweet smell of money."
When it rains or when the wind blows, the odor hangs over the city, said Toni Pennington, 20, a third-year student at Millikin University who doesn't think of Decatur as a place where young people like herself would settle after graduation.
ADM officials apparently think the same thing.
Among the reasons the company offered for moving its headquarters was its need for an "environment where we can attract and retain employees with diverse skills, and where family members can find ample career opportunities."
Decatur hasn't thrown in the towel, however. "I don't want my community to think this is the end. This is not the end.'' said City Manager Ryan McCrady.
The city, in the midst of a $14 million downtown beautification, is widening sidewalks adorned with bricks and adding new lampposts and signs. Truck traffic was diverted from downtown streets. And it even got rid of parking meters, hoping to attract more shoppers.
McCrady also pointed out that this month Gov. Pat Quinn was in town to open ADM's intermodal facility. Shipping containers will be transferred among different train lines and onto trucks. The facility, McCrady said, will create jobs and put Decatur on the map as a hub for moving goods.
On Thursday, the city unveiled its plans for a new police station.
"We are not rolling over," Mayor Michael McElroy said at groundbreaking ceremony. "We get news that we don't like … you just take it and you do what you know is the right thing to do and it's going to pass us. We are going to be just fine."
Tom Nolan, a real estate broker, said he doesn't expect ADM's announcement to hurt housing sales. Nolan said expensive homes continued to sell after Tate & Lyle moved about 80 executives to Hoffman Estates two years ago, and he said he doesn't expect anything different now. In fact, Nolan said he closed on a sale of a $925,000 house the day ADM's news broke.
"People don't realize how many rich people live here," Nolan said.
There are pockets of homes worth from half a million dollars to more than $1 million, mostly owned by business owners, doctors and former and current executives from ADM, Caterpillar and other companies. There is Forsyth to the north, a suburb close to Hickory Point Golf Course and the mall. South of downtown, on Lake Decatur, are homes with pools and man-made lakes.
Decatur also has its modest neighborhoods. And boarded-up homes are sprinkled throughout the town. Despite the downtown face-lift, empty storefronts dot the streets.
Sheryol Threewit, who runs a boutique shop, said it's been a tough week. Workers are repaving the street, making parking difficult, she said. "People won't come downtown until construction is done," Threewit said.
Sales at her shop which specializes in gifts, collectibles, lamps and mirrors, have fallen 50 percent.
"Every little thing affects our economy here," Threewit said. She said she's also feeling the effects of the latest rumors that Caterpillar, Decatur's second-largest employer, was planning more layoffs.
So far this year, Caterpillar laid off about 750 people here due to a decline in mining equipment sales. Caterpillar has said it has been reducing costs, including laying off workers, but declined to comment further.
"We are just bleeding jobs around here," said Donna Harris, 57.
Floyd Wheeler said the news about ADM makes people feel like the town is dying, and that atmosphere changes people's attitude toward life. People don't smile as much, and they are less likely to mow their lawns if they feel like there isn't a point to it.
In recent years, he's spotted deer and coyotes wandering around town, wildlife he didn't see 30 years ago.
"They don't come where there is a lot of life," said Wheeler, 66, a regular at the Downtown Cafe on Main Street, the place locals go to get their morning news and talk business. "It's depressing."
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