Naperville, an urbanized suburb in which about 147,000 people live, prides itself on being a job destination as well as a residential suburb of Chicago. It actually has more jobs – currently about 70,000 – than it does residential units, which numbered 52,270 in 2010. But a few disturbing trends have emerged for suburbs all over the country within the past few years. Locally, Office Max, which was headquartered in Naperville, merged with Office Depot, but despite some serious discussion that reached the governor’s office in Illinois (and no doubt in Florida), Office Depot’s CEO emerged as the CEO of the combined companies, and the combined headquarters remained in Boca Raton, Office Depot’s home base. (Since then, Staples, the office supply giant, has attempted to buy Office Depot, but has been thwarted by the Federal Trade Commission and a ruling in a federal case.)
In another instance, ConAgra moved into town, and then shifted its 400 jobs to Chicago in 2015. The western Chicago suburbs have recently been rocked by the news that McDonald’s will sell its 150 acres in suburban Oak Brook and move into Harpo Studios (formerly the home of Oprah Winfrey’s television show) in Chicago’s trendy meatpacking district, now home to dozens of millennial-friendly restaurants and clubs. Notably, McDonald’s is not buying the Chicago property, nor will they own the new building they will commission after the existing buildings on the lot are removed. The McDonald’s property in Oak Brook is spread around various locations, including its corporate headquarters and Hamburger University, where McDonald’s employees from around the country come to train.
This disruption, where a large corporation moves its location to a major city, is surely a shift, and not exclusive to Chicago. Of course, if an employer moves to the city but suburban employees can adapt to that change by commuting by car or public transit, they can maintain these jobs in a way they cannot if the company moves out of state. (Sometimes in a move like this employees may be offered an opportunity to telecommute one or two days a week.) Naperville is fortunate to have two train stations, one shared with neighboring Aurora (a city even larger than Naperville) that can get commuters into the Chicago Loop in 35 to 45 minutes. But it’s widely assumed in the business community that these corporate moves are frequently also efforts to shed the expensive, suburban Baby Boomer (or even Generation X) employees and pick up younger, less highly-paid Millennial workers who may already live in the city. For municipalities, it means that these corporate office buildings left behind in the suburbs will need new tenants, and some may have to be reconfigured to make them more attractive to new businesses and new employees. Some of these changes occur because products that used to be made in the U.S. are now made overseas, some because of massive and rapid technological changes, some because of global shifts.