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In My Opinion

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This banana business could teach us something

By Mark Washburn

We have before us a great opportunity. Within our reach is the national title of “Most Gullible Bumpkins.”

We have been in training for a long time to become pushover negotiators.

We believed the rosy attendance estimates and poured millions into creating the NASCAR Hall of Fame because it would make us a big-time tourist destination. When the Carolina Panthers wanted to spiff up their digs, we tossed them $65 million-plus on the ironclad stipulation that the team couldn’t move elsewhere until the Earth circled the sun at least six times. And there have been other astonishing deals.

Now comes the Chiquita situation.

You will remember how we skillfully wooed the banana company headquarters from Cincinnati three years back. Come to sunny Charlotte, we cooed, and we’ll make it worth your while. Here the streets are paved with million-dollar incentives. World headquarters means world class.

Chiquita drove a hard bargain and we ponied up. Chiquita arrived and flopped.

Beset with long-standing financial problems, the fruit titan has announced a marriage of convenience with an Irish rival. In the interest of avoiding U.S. taxes, the company will be based in the Emerald Isle.

Now there’s talk about letting Chiquita slide on its commitment to keep its global headquarters here for at least a decade. Maybe we should let them keep the incentive money, goes the thinking, because they did create jobs.

This grand gesture would set us apart from other cities we compete with in the struggle to attract big business. It would absolutely solidify our image as drooling imbeciles, the kind of reputation that makes all the difference in the big leagues.

“Charlotte, where the contract always ends in ‘Or Whatever,’ ” could be our recruiting theme. “We’re prom-date desperate!” could be our economic motto.

There’s no reason to let Chiquita keep the money. Chiquita knew the rules and calculated the price for breaking them. We’re happy to have the company as a neighbor, and we hope it will enjoy our hospitality for a long time.

But this is a business town, and a deal is a deal. We’re far better off sticking to our word – and holding our partners accountable to theirs, particularly if we’re going to negotiate sweet deals like the one Chiquita got.

In the end, companies considering relocation will be more comfortable in the knowledge they only have to skin us once.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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