Chiquita and Charlotte

Charlotte learned a tough lesson yesterday as Chiquita declared it will shutter its headquarters located in Uptown. Despite the shock and disappointment about the decision, there will be much handwringing over the financial incentives package awarded to Chiquita by the city, the county, and the state to lure the company from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The deal promised more than $20 millions to Chiquita had it met hiring numbers and remained in Uptown for eleven years. Now, after a little more than three years, Chiquita is moving. The various levels of government are expecting the new owners – Cutrale and Safra Group – to pay back something near $2 millions, as they have promised to do.

Yet, this turn of events will cause elected officials to reassess the wisdom of these incentive packages. For former Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre, the answer to the question is a resounding ‘Yes’. It is the way of the world, he says. Charlotte has many amenities – warm weather, diverse and skilled workforce, an international airport – but in a hyper-competitive world, businesses will look for the best package.

It is interesting to see Latin American firms beat US and European firms in this game. In this moment of capitalism, the world has seen several Latin American tycoons play very well, such as Carlos Slim (Grupo Carso), Daniel Servitje (Bimbo), and Luis Pagani (Arcor).

While the terms still heavily favor firms from the US and Europe, Latin American businessmen seize opportunities, Chiquita being just the latest. Yet, it would be premature to say that this is a sign of a golden era of Latin American business competing broadly at the international level. Rather, it seems to be a clear indication of further wealth concentration among a select group of actors as industries continue the march of concentration and centralization. And those guys get to do what they want while cities like Charlotte are left at times standing in the rain.


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