Cover Story: Chiquita - banana split?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - After months of working to get Chiquita to move its headquarters from Cincinnati, Ohio to the Queen City it's now official.

The move will create about 400 new positions in Charlotte.  90 of those will be current employees making the move from Ohio to North Carolina.

The average pay is  $107,000.

Governor Bev Perdue joined local lawmakers and the CEO of Chiquita to make the announcement Tuesday afternoon.

"We are delighted, honored, privileged all those words to announce this very minute that Chiquita is moving its corporate headquarters to Charlotte, North Carolina," Perdue announced.

What made the company chose Charlotte?  Chiquita's CEO told us it simply came down to two things - what we were willing to offer in incentives and our airport - plain and simple.

With a high five and a hug the deal with Chiquita and North Carolina became official, Chiquita CEO Fernando Aguirre and North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue exchanged an embrace.

In 1987 Chiquita moved from Manhattan to Cincinnati citing lower costs and better communication.  Twenty-four years later it's for almost the same reasons.

North Carolina offered the banana giant $20 million dollars in economic incentives.  Mecklenburg county and Charlotte together chipped in $2 million.

In return the city county and state gets a multi-million dollar global company; a Fortune 1000 company with 400-high paying jobs - jobs that pay twice the county average; and a $14 million investment in its new headquarters in Center City.

Hugh McColl who knows a thing or two about running a big company helped work on the deal.

But apart from the incentives, it was Charlotte's airport that helped seal the deal.

In the last six years, Delta Air Lines once a major hub in Cincinnati, reduced service drastically and Chiquita has been looking for a city where it can fly directly to its operations around the world which it can reach better from Charlotte.

Never before has there been so much outside help to land a company headquarters here..

News of this deal leaked out this summer.

Both cities (each call themselves the Queen City) engaged in a friendly food fight on Twitter.

Chiquita's CEO even got involved calling the fighting over the company "humbling and humanizing."

And a local apparel maker, owner Judy Hill, got involved.  She made bow ties in the Chiquita colors for local officials and sending one to Chiquita's CEO which he and other officials were wearing at the news conference Tuesday.

Charlotte's gain is Cincinnati's loss and the decision didn't come easily for CEO Fernando Aguirre.

"The most important thing Cincinnati should feel good about their community," said Aguirre.  "We thank them.  They're a terrific community. It's just this time around this was a pure business decision."

And that business decision is expected to save the company $4 million a year.

In addition to the headquarters Chiquita is moving its research and development laboratories here.

The jobs they'll be bringing average in the six-figure range.

The move should be completed by the next year or so.

Chiquita will be moving into the NASCAR Plaza office tower at Caldwell and Stonewall Streets in Center City.

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