Norwest still makes the list -- in California

  • Article by: JOHN J. OSLUND and PATRICK KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 1999 - 10:00 PM

Norwest Corp. still makes the Top 10 list of the state's largest public companies.

But the state is California, not Minnesota.

By virtue of Norwest's surprise $31 billion agreement last June to acquire San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. and move its headquarters there, Norwest cannot be included in the Star Tribune 100 (ST100), an annual listing of the largest publicly held, Minnesota-based companies.

Though the departure of Norwest's headquarters took a significant chunk of sales and earnings out of the ST100, the big bank's economic contributions to Minnesota are virtually unchanged. There have not been significant job cuts, for example, and most operations continue here as before.

So, beyond civic pride, is Minnesota worse off?

"I wish I knew," said Tom Stinson, Minnesota state economist. "We've lost the big salaries for a few key executives. But have we lost a focus on the upper Midwest as well? Are they going to continue to be as good a corporate provider as they were before? Or will they focus more on Wells' traditional markets?"

Still here -- and growing  

Stinson's uncertainty is partly due to the nature of financial services firms, such as Norwest and Green Tree Financial Corp., also a no-show on this year's ST100 because it was acquired in July by Indiana insurer Conseco Inc.

The economic impact of such firms is more difficult to quantify than, say, manufacturing firms with substantial research and development operations that also might be relocated in a headquarters move. Both Norwest and Green Tree still have substantial, growing operations in Minnesota.

In a letter to the Star Tribune asking that Norwest/Wells Fargo be included in this year's ST100 list, Norwest Bank Chairman James Campbell said: "If your sole criteria focuses on where the senior executives of the holding company have their offices, we think you'll miss an opportunity to explore the broader economic health of major Minnesota businesses."

Campbell, who remains in charge of Norwest Bank Minnesota, points out that Norwest remains one of the state's largest employers (13,600 Minnesota employees) and that Minneapolis remains headquarters to 14 of Wells Fargo's national businesses.

The emotional effects  

But however difficult it is to quantify the economic effects of a corporate relocation, the emotional and political effects are the stuff newspaper headlines are made of. Minnesotans cheered last week's news that the merged NSP and New Century Energies utility will have its headquarters in Minneapolis. Denver, where New Century is based, frowned. In the past few months, headquarters relocations have been big news in both the "winning" and "losing" communities:

  •   Germany's Adidas Solomon AG won points with urban leaders when it placed its U.S. headquarters in racially mixed, low-income North Portland, Ore. In the process, the German sneaker maker took a jab at arch-competitor Nike, whose headquarters is located on a "guarded compound in suburban Beaverton," the Wall Street Journal reported in January.

  •   Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Rockwell International announced in February that it will relocate to Milwaukee. The move marks a homecoming for the big defense contractor, which began life in the early 1900s as a Wisconsin axle maker and is being enthusiastically welcomed back by Badger loyalists.

  •   When the Miami Herald learned that Burger King was contemplating a move out of town, its editorial writers urged Miamians to "Hold on to the Whopper."

  •   Yet the Herald's parent, Knight Ridder Inc., was the target of criticism in Florida last year for moving its corporate headquarters to Silicon Valley from Miami. (Similar concerns arose in the Twin Cities last year when locally owned Cowles Media Co., which owned the Star Tribune, sold itself to Sacramento-based McClatchy Newspapers Inc.)

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