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Place on Sears’ short list a plus for city

Whether Sears Holdings Corp. ends up coming to Columbus or not, reports that the company has put the city on a short list as it considers moving its headquarters is bringing national attention to central Ohio.

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By Marla Matzer Rose The Columbus Dispatch  •  Friday October 7, 2011 5:16 AM var switchTo5x=true; (function() { var stscr = document.createElement('script'); stscr.type = 'text/javascript'; stscr.async = true; stscr.src =""; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(stscr, s); stscr.onload=stCB; stscr.onreadystatechange=function(){if(stscr.readyState=='loaded'){stCB();}}; })(); function stCB(){ stLight.options({ publisher: "3b385b71-49e1-4013-8507-ae1e8e4ed970", doNotHash: true, doNotCopy: true, hashAddressBar: false, onhover: false }); } Comments: 3 Whether Sears Holdings Corpends up coming to Columbus or not, reports that the company has put the city on a short list as it considers moving its headquarters is bringing national attention to central Ohio. Many observers are betting that the owner of Sears and Kmart will end up getting a better deal from Illinois and staying in the Chicago area after its months-long flirtation with movingBut several people with knowledge of the situation say Columbus has made it to the final phase of a serious, multicity search — which in itself is an achievement. It’s been 30 years since Columbus attracted American Electric Power and Borden, the last time the city lured away a major headquarters operation. Sears, with 6,200 employees at its headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill., would instantly become one of central Ohio’s largest employers if it were to move hereIt would trail only a handful of companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Nationwide and Honda. “Just being on a short list is a really good sign for Columbus,” said Robin Holderman, vice president of real estate for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority and a veteran central Ohio real-estate executive. It also would be a huge win for the local economy if the move were to go through. “Should Columbus entice Sears to relocate, we judge the economic impact to be pretty substantial,” said Daniel Meges, an economist with Chmura Economics & Analytics in Cleveland. Meges calculated that the addition of the headquarters would lead to the creation of 10,000 additional jobs at supporting companies. Retailers, which are largely in the distribution business, often prefer to locate along major highways outside the urban coreSears Holdings moved out of the iconic Sears Tower in downtown Chicago years ago and now occupies 2.4 million square feet in suburban Hoffman Estates. Retailers based in this area, such as Limited Brands on the Northeast Side and Limited spinoff Abercrombie & Fitch in New Albany, are examples of campus-style headquarters paired with warehousing operations. Commercial real-estate experts say the most likely place for a retailer such as Sears to land would be in a suburb such as New Albany or the Polaris areaAlthough the Far West Side and the Rickenbacker Airport area are key distribution hubs, Holderman said, top management officials typically prefer that a headquarters location be based in an upscale suburban area closer to where they’re likely to reside. New Albany has been one of the most successful Ohio communities at attracting businesses in the past couple of yearsScott McAfee, a public information officer for New Albany, said about 60 percent of the city’s designated business park area is developed or in the process of being built out, but plenty of space remains for new companies. If Sears Holdings were to relocate to Columbus, it would find out what other companies have learned on moving here, said Bill LaFayette, owner of the local economics-consulting firm Regionomics. “It’s certainly a whole lot cheaper to get good talent here than in Chicago,” he said, whether it is jobs in information technology, finance or back-office operations. Thomas GSeward, assistant to Mark Kvamme at JobsOhio, said Kvamme and Eddie Lampert, Sears’ chairman and a billionaire hedge-fund manager, “have met, but they do not have a significant relationship.” The two investors, for example, have spoken at investment conferences in recent years, along with dozens of other presenters. Paul Swinand, a stock analyst who covers Sears Holdings for Morningstar, said Lampert’s threats about moving the company should be taken seriously, especially after Illinois raised income taxes on workers and corporationsAlso, incentives that Sears would have received for moving out of Chicago likely have begun to expire, he said. “If anyone thinks they’re not serious about kicking the tires in any deal that they can get, that person would be stupid,” he said. Besides lower costs, Lampert might have another reason to consider Columbus after he bought a stake in Columbus-based discount retailer Big LotsAccording to a filing with the U.SSecurities and Exchange Commission, the 1.3 million shares of Big Lots that Lampert acquired early this year were valued at $56.5?million. “It sounds like a stretch to me, but not impossible,” Swinand said, noting that Lampert has investments in other retailers, including Auto Nation and Auto Zone. The additional factor that Lampert has to consider is the disruption that would be caused by any move of the corporate office and its employees, he said. “There are different factors weighing on each potential site,” he said. 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