The corporate headquarters of Augusta's only New York Stock Exchange-listed company moved to Chicago last year when Merry Land & Investment Co. announced a merger with Equity Residential Properties Trust.
The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce called it a "loss."
It was another example of a corporate headquarters moving away.
Other acquisitions in the past few years have included the purchase of drill bit-manufacturer Greenfield Industries by Pennsylvania tool maker Kennametal Inc., Aiken's Palmetto Savings Bank by Regions Financial and Osbon Medical Systems by Imagyn Medical Technologies.
All of these mergers took Augusta's corporate headquarters elsewhere.
"It's a trend," said Julian Osbon, the former owner of Osbon Medical Systems. "When one company merges with another, one city loses and another city gains."
Consolidation is changing the face of Augusta.
Earlier this month, Boardman Petroleum announced it was selling 67 convenience stores to Connecticut-based Tosco, pending regulatory approval. The Smiley face will be replaced with the Circle K.
Boardman Petroleum will continue to run its other operations.
The trend of losing corporate headquarters to larger areas isn't a new one, First Union economist Mark Vitner said. It's been happening since World War II. Companies outgrow the city where they started and are concentrating in larger metropolitan areas.
"Typically, when a company gets to a certain size it moves to attract the types of people that they need," Mr. Vitner said from his Charlotte, N.C. office. "It's one of the problems smaller areas face."
It doesn't mean that mid-sized cities are suffering, there are many opportunities for small and emerging businesses. Those cities just may not be getting the benefits that come with having major corporate headquarters, economists say.
Fortune,a business magazine that annually lists the nation's 500 largest corporations, lists 15 companies headquartered in Georgia. Only four of them are located outside Atlanta.
Columbus has one, insurance company AFLAC. Dalton has one, carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries. Duluth has one, heavy farm equipment manufacturer AGCO. And Thomasville has one, Flowers Industries. It owns President Baking, which bought Murray Biscuit Co., formerly an Augusta-based company.
The Augusta area still has a few public company headquarters: Merry Land Properties, a spinoff of the original Merry Land & Investment Co.; Martin Color-Fi, in Edgefield; People's Community Bank, in Aiken; Georgia Bank & Trust, First Bank; and Apple Homes, a manufactured home builder.
And there are many private companies with headquarters here, too. A few of the larger ones are: Augusta Iron & Steel Works, Marks & Morgan Jewelers, MAU Inc., Sizemore Inc., Augusta Sportswear, CastleberrySnow's Brands, and Morris Communications Corp., which owns The Augusta Chronicle and other publications.
States with the biggest cities, however, have the most headquarters.
New York leads the pack with 59 Fortune 500 companies; 45 of them in New York City. California has 56 company headquarters. Illinois has 39, 14 of them in Chicago.
One reason companies are gravitating to large metro areas is because they offer transportation and telecommunications opportunities. Cities with airport hubs and high-tech communication are using them to recruit companies, said Chamber of Commerce President Jim West.
Georgia-Pacific, one of Augusta's most famous sons, is now in Atlanta.
Founded in Augusta by Owen R. Cheatham, Georgia-Pacific grew to be one of the largest lumber suppliers in the nation. The company moved its headquarters to Olympia, Wash., and then to Portland, Ore in the 1950s.
It came back to Georgia in 1982, this time to Atlanta.
Georgia-Pacific still holds its annual meetings in Augusta, and always will as long as chairman and chief executive officer Pete Correll is in charge, he said. But the company is headquartered in Atlanta because of the ease of transportation and communication.
"Not too many non-stop flights from Augusta to Tokyo," Mr. Correll said.
But when a corporate headquarters leaves, it costs the city something.
Exactly what, is hard to measure, Mr. West said.
Mr. West believes corporate headquarters offer a community two things: an elevated self-image, which comes from a community sense of pride associated with being the home of a large business, and more investment from the company in the community.
Corporate headquarters contribute to the "look and feel" of a city, MAU president Randy Hatcher said. MAU, for example, has a 5-story building where it might have a 5,000 square-foot office if it weren't headquartered in Augusta.
Companies tend to give more to communities that they are based in, too.
In Columbus, for example, United Way pledges topped $5 million for the first time this year. It was $5.4 million. The three largest contributors -- AFLAC, Synovus, and W.C. Bradley -- have corporate headquarters there, United Way campaign director Dick Hagan said. Those three corporations alone gave about $800,000.
In contrast, the United Way of the CSRA is still trying to raise more than $4 million. It reported more than $3.7 million in pledges this year.
"There's no question that a corporate headquarters brings certain benefits to a community," said William S. Morris III, chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications.
The Morris family, which owns the company, has invested in an art museum and given much to local charities and events. This weekend the company is spending $250,000 to help sponsor the Georgia Games Championships. This is the first year that the games are being held outside Atlanta.
"I think it's tragic the way so many headquarters have moved from so many small and mid-sized cities," Mr. Morris said. "It's a trend that's been going on for the last 50 years or so."
The result is larger metro areas with high concentrations of people and traffic and other problems that do not necessarily make the quality of life better.
Mr. Morris believes that the trend is driven by a tax structure that encourages family business owners to sell their holdings rather than pass it down to their heirs and by economies of scale created by consolidation.
His business is headquartered here because it is where he lives. His family has been here six generations and he has no plans to ever move his corporate headquarters, he said.
"Augusta is a viable community," he said.
Preston Sizemore, the president and chief executive officer of Sizemore Inc., said his company is headquartered in Augusta for the same reason. Mr. Sizemore's father founded the company in Augusta in 1955.
"The community has been good to us," he said.
Sizemore now has 19 offices in 6 states.
Local companies don't just offer charitable contributions, they also offer a community leadership, Mr. Sizemore added.
He sits on the boards of several organizations.
In some ways, however, there is another interesting phenomenon associated with attracting corporate headquarters, Mr West said.
Companies tend to want to be based in cities that have a high quality of life -- arts, sports, fine dining and meeting facilities. But often it takes big companies with money to invest in a community to get those things, Mr. West said.
Here is a list from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce of companies that moved their corporate headquarters from Augusta since the mid-1970s because they merged with other companies:
E-Z-Go, merged with Textron
Murray Biscuit Co., merged with Flower Industries
Columbia Nitrogen, merged with DSM Chemicals
Roper Manufacturing, merged with General Electric
Riverside Mills, merged with Thomason
Continental Can, merged with International Paper
Gary Concrete, merged with ZURN Industries
Claussen Paving, merged with ZURN Industries
Merry Brick Co., merged with Boral Brick
Lily Tulip, merged with Sweetheart Cup Co.
Georgia Railroad Bank, merged with First Union
Southern Roadbuilders, merged with APAC
Club Car, merged with Ingersoll Rand
GIW Industries, merged with KSB
The Graniteville Co., merged with Avondale Mills
TRW, merged with Kennametal
Frank Witsil can be reached at (706) 823-3352.
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