Loss of NWA headquarters - what does it really mean?by Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Delta's acquisition of Northwest means the company's headquarters are slated to move from Eagan to Atlanta. Delta officials say, for now, they will keep some executive offices here and say they are committed to retaining significant jobs, operations and facilities in Minnesota. It's not yet clear what that means.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Northwest has three buildings in Eagan. There's a data center, flight training facility and the corporate headquarters.
Combined, they make Northwest the third largest employer in the southern suburb. Number one, is Thomson West publishing which employs more than twice as many people as Northwest.
Eagan's mayor Mike Maguire says he's encouraged by Delta's willingness to keep some jobs in his city and he's hopeful that Delta will see the value of retaining Northwest's Eagan-based operations.
"In particular, I think the data center and the flight center are things that the new Delta will continue to need," he says. "We believe that Eagan continues to be the asset to the company that it has been to Northwest."
But the new Delta will not need two headquarters. Mayor Maguire says he understands that means some Northwest jobs will likely leave Eagan.
"No one ever looks forward to change, but it's required. We certainly hope jobs can be retained in our community, but if it comes to pass that they cannot, we are confident in our ability to move forward and beyond that," Maguire says.
Minnesota's loss of a Fortune 500 company's headquarters is one of the few details known about the acquisition. While much attention has been paid to how many jobs may be leaving the state, people like Jim Campbell have a different perspective.
Campbell, former CEO of Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, points out that the ultimate affect when companies come together, can't always be clearly predicted.
In 1998 Minnesota-based Norwest and Wells Fargo merged. The new Wells Fargo moved its headquarters from Minneapolis to San Francisco.
But Campbell says that move actually brought more jobs to Minnesota.
"I think it's up 70 percent. I think there were about 13,000 employees 10 years ago and there's about 22,000 today," Campbell says.
Campbell concedes there are a lot of differences between the airline and banking businesses. He says airlines are much more affected by forces they can't control, like the weather and fuel prices.
But Campbell says like Wells Fargo, it may work to Delta's advantage to retain a substantial presence in the Twin Cities with the headquarters in Atlanta.
Actually, he says, the idea that a company's headquarters should be in one place is outdated.
"There's no reason that they cannot leave substantial activities in markets where they have good employees and things do not need to be all in the same building with the global networks and the global economy we have today," he says.
Up until now, Minnesota had 20 Fortune 500 companies based here. Jim Campbell says for now, the loss of the Northwest headquarters is more a blow to the state's ego than it's pocketbook. The real test may be to see where the state's fortunes are a few years from now.
"If 10 years from today, it's not what it is today, that will indicate what really happened," Campbell says. "I think in the Wells Fargo case, even though the corporate headquarters is somewhere else, the impact and presence in the community is as much, or more than it was when it happened."
Some airline industry experts predict the acquisition of Northwest will provide substantial short term gains for the regional economy.
For example, they say the expansion of international flights through the airport will attract companies whose business depends on access to worldwide travel destinations.
- All Things Considered, 04/15/2008, 5:46 p.m.