Jimmy John's founder contemplates moving headquarters out of Illinois
UPDATE: Here's a better link to the podcast of today's Penny for Your Thoughts program that includes a call from Jimmy John Liautaud.
CHAMPAIGN – The founder of Jimmy John's said he has applied for Florida residency and may recommend that his corporate headquarters move out-of-state as a result of the Illinois tax increases enacted last week.
Jimmy John Liautaud told The News-Gazette on Tuesday that he is angry about the moves, which boosted the individual income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent and the corporate income tax from 7.3 percent to 9.5 percent.
"All they do is stick it to us," he said, adding that the Legislature and governor showed "a clear lack of understanding."
"I could absorb this and adapt, but it doesn't feel good in my soul to make it happen," Liautaud said.
Jimmy John's, which has its corporate headquarters on Fox Drive in Champaign, has more than 1,000 sandwich shops nationwide, many of them franchise operations.
Champaign has been its corporate base, but Liautaud said it will not necessarily continue that way.
Liautaud said he has been contacted by "multiple pro-business states" that made him feel "wanted and important."
"I enjoy being courted and the process," he said.
Once he collects information on alternative sites, he will present it to the company's board of directors and ask the board to decide.
As for himself, "my family and I are out of here," he said.
Liautaud said he has rented a house in south Florida and his children started school there last week. He said he has applied for Florida residency and plans to commute to Champaign.
He said he doesn't know yet whether he will put his home on West Armory Street on the market.
Jimmy John's employs 100 at the corporate office in Champaign and has 190 other employees who work elsewhere but come to Champaign every four weeks, Liautaud said.
Some people may not realize how many travel to Champaign-Urbana as a result of Jimmy John's being here – many of them for training.
Liautaud said his business accounts for "350 motel nights a week in Champaign, 1,400 motel nights a month."
"They eat at Cheddars," get automotive service at Sullivan-Parkhill and "drink at Carlos (Nieto's) bars," he said.
Liautaud also lashed out at union protesters who demonstrated against a "low-cost" contractor his company is using to build a Jimmy John's in Urbana. That restaurant will provide 30 jobs, he said.
He said he's sick of being "pummeled."
"I'm not sophisticated enough, smart enough or politically correct enough to absorb it all," he said.
Jimmy John's offices occupy 23,000 square feet on Fox Drive, and Liautaud said he had considered buying a 20,000-square-foot building just north of those offices. Those plans went out the window with the tax increase, he said.
He said he also planned to hire 80 more people at the executive level.
With regard to the tax increase, Liautaud criticized the way the Legislature "snuck it through" and called the procedure "sneaky."
When asked whether Illinois could do anything now to change his mind, he said "the state could say they made a mistake" and "apologize."
Marcelyn Love, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said she could not address the Jimmy John's situation specifically.
But she said the temporary increase in the corporate income tax "will help stabilize the budget, making Illinois more attractive to businesses."
"Through this plan, we're taking the necessary steps to strengthen the economy, attract new investment and put people to work," she said.
Liautaud would not say specifically what states had contacted with him about relocating, but expressed admiration for Indiana. He cited a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune placed by the city of Indianapolis, which invited Illinois companies to come and enjoy "a much more stable, affordable and pro-growth economic environment."
James North, president of Jimmy John's, echoed many of the same sentiments.
"I absolutely love it here," North said. "But when you do the math, it doesn't add up. Florida looks pretty nice right now."
Liautaud also said he "loves" Champaign. He said his mother and dad met here, and noted that his family has given the University of Illinois $5 million to establish the Liautaud Graduate School for Business in Chicago.
He added that he owns 3,400 acres of farmland in Champaign County and sponsors events at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Liautaud said building and operating a business like Jimmy John's is "not comfortable, not easy, not nice."
"We make money a dime at a time," he said.
He opened his first sandwich shop in Charleston in 1983 and opened his third shop, in Champaign, in 1987.
"I'm not a greedy American pig," Liautaud added. "I'm a hard-working, bread-baking, meat-slicing delivery guy who happens to be immensely successful."