By J.F. McKenna
The suburb of Brooklyn got its Dear John letter last week.
Correction — it was a tasteful card saying “Thank You and Goodbye.”
After more than a half-century, American Greeting Corp.is packing up its greeting cards, colorful stationery and 1,700-plus employees to move to the tonier locale of Crocker Park in neighboring Westlake. The world’s largest publicly-traded greeting card manufacturer plans to build its new HQ there.
For Brooklyn and all other communities, the cautionary message is unmistakable: Economics trumps sentiment every time.
American Greetings announced last month that its fourth-quarter income earning had dropped 18 percent because of tax-related audits. Before that, noting that Brooklyn had raised its taxes, the company said it was considering a move outside of Ohio altogether. That prompted the state to lobby hard and quickly — read: tax incentives — to keep American Greetings inside the Buckeye State.
As newsnet5.com reported, “Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said the city gave the company incentives to move there, including a one half of one percent tax credit for 15 years. He said tax increment financing will be a part of this project, which will allow infrastructure to be built.”
The sentiment of old ties has its place, but it will never win the heart faster than a boost to the top and the bottom line.
American Greetings key executives, not surprisingly, were gracious and politic about the move to create a new corporate venue by 2014.
“It…was a difficult decision because it means leaving a location that American Greetings has called home for more than 50 years,” said CEO Zev Weiss and President Jeff Weiss. “During the next three years, we hope to work with the City of Brooklyn, Cuyahoga County, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and others to look at possible other uses for our current facility.
“We realized that we must have an environment that more accurately reflects and effectively supports our creative and innovative culture,” the executives continued. “Our headquarters must reflect who we are now and what we want to be in the future. We are confident that moving to Westlake is the right business decision for our consumers, our retailers, our associates, shareholders and American Greetings – both now and in the future. Crocker Park is a vibrant retail center, with a variety of stores in step with the latest trends and appealing to a wide range of consumers. This will create an energy and synergy that will inspire our ability to create products that meet the needs of our consumers and retailers. Crocker Park also is a lifestyle center that will be attractive to our current and future associates. You will be able to shop, dine and find a variety of leisure activities nearby. It is easily accessible from several local freeways. The amenities and environment at Crocker Park will give our associates in every department a place to flourish, and maximize their performance, innovation and creativity. That is why we’re re-naming our headquarters the American Greetings Creative Studios. While all the sites we considered, including our current location in Brooklyn, had attractive features, we couldn’t replicate this total experience anywhere else.”
As noted, the American Greetings decision is a cautionary tale. Businesses demand a sensible tax structure, a well-maintained infrastructure and a world-class workforce — or they will find them elsewhere. Communities have to deliver them. Everything else is just flowery sentiment.
Which brings to mind Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who weighed in on American Greetings’ migration.
“[Brooklyn] Mayor Richard Balbieri made every effort to keep American Greetings on its Brooklyn campus and to preserve the $3 million in annual income tax revenue these jobs provide to the city,” said the politician whose firebrand reputation is more brand than fire. “He has bent over backwards to offer concessions above and beyond what any community the size of Brooklyn could reasonably offer. Now it’s up to the State of Ohio and American Greetings to help redevelop this campus.
“I am glad the jobs will stay in the area,” Kucinich added. “This is good for Westlake. We cannot forget Brooklyn.”
This is the same Dennis Kucinich who, the Seattle Times reported, “returned to Washington State…for a weekend of public appearances as part of his continued flirtation with a potential campaign for Congress here in 2012.”
J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .