Caterpillar’s HQ Move to Chicago Shows America’s Double Divide


Earlier today Caterpillar announced that it was moving its corporate headquarters from Peoria to Chicago. The move affects about 300 top-level executives. The company will retain a large presence in Peoria.

This is in line with what I’ve written about before: the rise of the executive headquarters, where a company moves its executive suite (anywhere from 50-500 people) to a major city like Chicago while leaving the back office elsewhere.

Chicago has benefitted from this more than any other city I know. In addition to many corporate HQ relocations from the suburbs, it lured ADM from downstate Decatur, ConAgra from Omaha, and even MillerCoors from Milwaukee.

These are all food/agriculture or industrial concerns. That’s right in line with Chicago’s industrial heritage.

I would assume there’s a real possibility every major agricultural or industrial company in the US interior that’s not already headquartered in a major city like Minneapolis may make a similar move to Chicago. I’m sure World Business Chicago already has its target list compiled and is making calls.

This exposes two major divides in the American economy.

The first is between cities positioned advantageously vs. disadvantageously. Chicago is the former (along with Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, etc). Peoria, along with most sub-million metro areas with an industrial heritage, is the latter. It’s simply difficult to keep higher end jobs in these cities. This robs of them of not just some high wage positions, but also significant talent firepower that could be invested in civic betterment.

The second is between those who are prospering with high skills, and those who are not. Chicago has a serious murder problem that’s been making global headlines for two years. It also has a huge financial problem on its hands, especially in the school district.

This doesn’t seem to be affecting business recruitment. CAT and others have not been scared off. This shows that, so far at least, Chicago and its successful segments can succeed even while the impoverished black and Latino areas of the city fail, and as many other industrial cities fall into decline.

In other words, this is another example of the decoupling of success in America. Those who are succeeding in America no longer need the overall prosperity of the country in order to personally do well. They can become enriched as a small, albeit sizable, minority.

Trump’s election was an intrusion into that success caused by those resentful from being left behind. The election of leftist mayors in the style of Bill de Blasio is another such reaction.  It’s very clear from what I see and hear in global cities that those who are succeeding wish those who are not would hurry up and die or just go away. They pretty much say it explicitly when it come to the white working class, and you can believe they are thinking it when it comes poor blacks.

There are cumulatively a lot of angry people out there, who are not blind to what items like CAT’s relocation imply. This inequality is only a recipe for further political upheaval and unrest.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Picture by Bidgee (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons