Another fast-food boss sounds the alarm on US crime: McDonald's CEO echoes Starbucks' safety concerns – but doubles down on chain's commitment to Chicago
- In a conversation with the Economic Club of Chicago, McDonald's President and CEO Chris Kempczinski, urged the city to address crime.
- McDonald's will be bringing 100 jobs to Chicago's West Loop neighborhood after announcing its relocation of its Innovation Center.
The head of McDonald's has a stark warning for the city of Chicago: The city must make reducing crime its top priority, he says.
"For many Chicago neighborhoods, this is not a new issue," CEO Chris Kempczinski told members of the Economic Club of Chicago."But it's seeping into every corner of our city wrecking an untold human impact."
Despite those concerns, the CEO announced on Wednesday that McDonald's is relocating its Innovation Center — where the company tests new products and innovations — from Romeoville, a village 26 miles from Chicago, to its near-downtown West Loop headquarters, bringing more than 100 jobs.
"While others are leaving Chicago and Illinois, I will tell you McDonald's is doubling down, we're going to be here," Kempczinski said, eliciting cheers from the audience.
Kempczinski is one of several prominent business executives over the past several months to speak out about concerns over public safety. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced more than a dozen store closures across the US due to safety concerns and reported incidents of customers using drugs inside some stores, although none of those closures were announced for Chicago.
Schultz's concerns mirror those expressed by Citadel founder Ken Griffin, who last October likened Chicago to "Afghanistan on a good day" and is now moving the hedge fund's headquarters from Chicago to Miami.
McDonald's opened its global headquarters in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood in 2018. Its lease expires in July 2023, according to local news outlet Block Club Chicago.
The company's initiatives to protect its employees and restaurants from dangerous situations and emerging security concerns include using off-duty police officers and actively training restaurant managers.
"While we do everything we can to keep all McDonald's restaurants running smoothly without interruption, the unfortunate reality of sitting at the heart of 14,000 US communities with more than 800,000 individuals working under the Arches is that things happen," stated Rob Holm, Director of McDonald's Global Security, in a company report.
City-wide crime in Chicago has increased over the past four years, most notably burglaries and theft, according to a Chicago Police Department year-end report in 2021. There's been a sharp uptick in carjackings and gun violence over the past two years, per the University of Chicago's Urban Labs research institute. The Mayor's Office Violence Reduction Dashboard and the city's gun crimes heat map show far fewer gun violence incidents in the West Loop neighborhood, where McDonald's is headquartered, compared to other parts of the city.
Kempczinski pointed to the deep ties between Chicago and McDonald's, calling the city the company's "first city." Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's franchise location in nearby Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. "Today in the Chicagoland area we operate 400 restaurants, and we're in virtually every neighborhood across the city," Kempczinski said. Thousands of employees work at its Chicago headquarters.
Still, Kempczinski said, it's more difficult "today for me to convince a promising McDonald's executive to relocate to Chicago from one of our other offices than it was just a few years ago. And if the Golden Arches were to leave, it'd be $2 billion that left the city overnight, Kempczinski said. "The tax base would erode, the public and private institutions would weaken, and the dynamism and the confidence that I think defines the city most certainly would suffer," he said.
McDonald's recently announced a $3.5 million investment towards 40 neighborhood organizations in Chicago to provide life skills, training, and employment support primarily for Chicago's Black and Latino youth — who are disproportionately affected by poverty and dangerous living environments.
He said that in addition to dealing with the "corrosive" effects of crime, the city needs to create a more attractive business climate by improving its tax structure and investing in infrastructure, transportation and schools; and it needs to shift its "mindset" and begin showcasing itself as a place of growth and opportunity.
He pointed to the string of large companies, including Boeing and Caterpillar, that have announced plans to leave the Chicago area.
"Everywhere I go I'm confronted by the same question these days: 'What's going on in Chicago?' While it may wound our civic pride to hear it, there's a general sense out there that our city is in crisis," Kempczinski said.
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