By now you have heard the news that Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica (BIVI) will relocate its corporate headquarters from St. Joseph to the Atlanta area. The move is part of a merger of BIVI and Merial, another large animal health company. Mergers are always on our radar because of the potential impact, good and bad, on our local companies. In the case of BIVI, we began discussions with the company as soon as we heard the news early this year. The truth is though, we have been working with the leadership of BIVI for more than 20 years to help them grow in St. Joseph and better secure the jobs. In spite of this and based on a 10-month evaluation by the company, they are moving the headquarters and the 75 positions associated with it.
This is obviously disappointing news. The company said that the main reason for the move was the availability of direct international flights from Atlanta to support their global business. Today, there are no direct flights from Kansas City International Airport to Europe. I believe that this was a major factor, but I learned long ago that decisions like this are typically based on a number of factors that ultimately lead to a decision that the company believes is in their best business interest.
For BIVI, a company that has been successful in St. Joseph, the issues in part came down to a changing paradigm of both growth (the company will become the second largest animal health company in the world) and an expanding global market. The company must attract and retain talent. A Midwest community the size of St. Joseph is a challenge to recruiting talent from around the world. I would tell you this is a challenge for cities like Kansas City as well. Once recruited, companies must make sure they can retain the talent. Much of this is dependent on place. People are typically attracted to a job but they are retained, in part, by the place they live.
I am a bad loser. I do not like to lose, but I also understand you must work to understand why you do not win every opportunity. Could BIVI have stayed and been successful in St. Joseph? History would say yes, but it was not our call. But we need to understand why. While it would be easy to say it was an airport thing, there is more for us to reflect on. We are competing in a global economy, our businesses compete for high-level talent in order to be successful, and, as such, we as a community must be willing to compete at a higher level, just as our companies must do. Developing a skilled workforce that meets the available jobs, addressing the challenges facing us in terms of community appearance, housing, redevelopment of downtown and older areas, and leadership are issues we can focus on to become more competitive and successful. Would it have made a difference in this case? Probably not. However, we will face more of these situations in the future and we need to better prepare for the long term.
We should be disappointed and concerned about BIVI’s decision, but more importantly, we should try to understand why and use this as a catalyst to move St. Joseph forward. With most of BIVI’s employees remaining in St. Joseph, we have a lot to build upon.
R. Patt Lilly