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Sears mulls HQ move; Columbus in running

Illinois makes bid to keep firm


A customer pushes a stroller into the second floor entrance to a Sears store in a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, July 10, 2007. Sears is considering Columbus as a potential location for its HQ.


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Sears Holding Corp. said yesterday it is talking with two prospective destinations for its headquarters — including Columbus, Ohio — even as it talks to Illinois about staying in that state.

Officials of Sears, the nation's fourth-largest broadline retailer, recently conducted tours of two sites and continue to talk with government leaders in Illinois about the looming expiration of a package of tax incentives tied to its suburban Chicago headquarters, spokesman Kimberly Freely said.

She declined to name the two prospective locations. However, a person familiar with the talks said the two sites are Columbus, Ohio, and Austin. Sears has 6,200 employees at its headquarters.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing, said Sears officials toured potential sites in Austin and Columbus late last month. They also met with officials who included representatives of the governors of each state, the person said.

Sears hopes to make a decision byyear-end, Ms. Freely said.

"Our commitment to our associates and shareholders is to be thorough in our review of our opportunities in the hopes of resolving this matter in the near future," she said. "We have received offers from a number of states and recently conducted site visits and facility tours at a pair of them. We also look forward to continuing our productive and positive discussions with officials here in Illinois."

A spokesman for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said his office continues to talk with Sears but didn't give details.

"Sears plays an important role in our state's economy, which is why the governor and his administration are continuing extensive talks with the company," Annie Thompson said. "The governor's door is always open to business leaders to continue discussing other ways we can improve Illinois' business climate to create more jobs and expand the economy."

Sears moved to Hoffman Estates outside Chicago in the early 1990s, lured in part by incentives that give the company a share of property taxes that would otherwise go to schools.

Those incentives expire next year. Legislation awaiting state Senate action would extend them.

Sears is just one of a handful of big companies that have said they could leave Illinois after Mr. Quinn and the Legislature raised income taxes this year. Those companies include the CME Group Inc., which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and Caterpillar Inc.

Some experts have said they doubt it makes financial sense for Sears to move. But the firm reportedly has been wooed by several states.

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