Jimmy John's leaving Illinois?
CHAMPAIGN — Neither Jimmy John Liautaud nor the president of the Jimmy John's sandwich chain would comment Thursday on a report the company will move its licensing division out of state.
Crain's Chicago Business reported that Liautaud said he would move the licensing division to Florida and probably move other parts of the company from Champaign in the next four years, perhaps to Texas or Indiana.
According to Crain's, Liautaud made the comments as a panelist during a conference on how tax policies affect corporate growth.
James North, the president of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shops, also served on the panel Sept. 18 in Chicago.
Messages for Liautaud, the chain's founder, and North were left Thursday at the company.
Mary Trader, a public relations representative who works with the chain, said the company had no comment, and Liautaud and North were "unavailable."
Liautaud told The News-Gazette in January 2011 that he was angry about tax increases that Illinois had enacted and might recommend moving his corporate headquarters out of state.
He also said he had applied for Florida residency and planned to commute to Champaign.
During the 2011 interview, Liautaud said Jimmy John's employed 100 at its corporate office on Fox Drive and had 190 other employees who came to Champaign every four weeks.
In the wake of those comments, state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, met with Liautaud to hear his concerns.
The Champaign County Economic Development Corp. also requested a meeting with Liautaud in hopes of persuading him to stay.
According to Crain's, Liautaud said he considered leaving the state after Illinois raised the corporate tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent. He felt even more strongly about moving when he saw how the state was spending money.
Mike Kirchhoff, the new chief executive officer of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., said he recently exchanged emails with Liautaud in hopes of arranging a meeting.
Kirchhoff said Liautaud mentioned the tax situation in Illinois, but did not mention any moves in the email exchange.
Kirchhoff said when he was a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston years ago, his apartment was just across the parking lot from Jimmy John's first store.
"I bought from Jimmy across the counter," he said.
Later, when Jimmy John's opened in the Kansas City, Mo., area, where Kirchhoff previously worked, "I was first in line to buy a sub."
Kirchhoff said Jimmy John's has had remarkable growth and success in marketing quality products.
"I'm anxious to talk with him to see if we can add value (to the business)," he said. "He's got a lot of supporters here in central Illinois."
Kirchhoff added that Liautaud's concerns seem to be more state-oriented than local.
"Clearly, this is a state-level issue," he said. "It's more of a challenge trying to change state policy."
Laura Frerichs, chair of the economic development group and the wife of Sen. Frerichs, said she toured Jimmy John's headquarters with North on Tuesday and said the chain has grown to nearly 1,500 stores.
"For each new store they open, they send trainees and owners to Champaign to learn about running an operation," she stated in an email. "This activity alone contributes to nearly 600 hotel rooms a week."
She said the EDC, elected officials and local franchise owners have all offered support and assistance to help retain the chain.
Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno called Jimmy John's "an extremely valuable local employer, and we highly value its presence in the community."
"They are not unnoticed, and we're not ungrateful that they're here," he said.
"I think this town is really well suited to be a good fit."