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Sears visits 2 HQ site suitors

Updated: November 16, 2011 9:47AM

Sears executives have visited potential new headquarters sites in Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, but say they remain open to negotiating with Illinois officials to keep the retailer’s headquarters in Hoffman Estates.

The Sears leaders visited potential sites, toured offices and met with municipal, business, state and economic development officials in Austin and in Columbus, sources said Wednesday.

Sears officials expect to make a decision by the end of the year. The retailer is one of a number of businesses that have threatened to move headquarters and some operations out of state because of state tax burdens.

No one from the Austin or Columbus mayors’ offices or economic development departments or from the two governors’ offices would comment Wednesday on the meetings.

Sears CEO Louis D’Ambrosio met in late August with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, to discuss the state’s willingness to extend Sears’ tax incentives beyond their scheduled expiration next year.

Meanwhile, School District 300 officials have led a months-long effort to block extension of Sears’ Economic Development Area property tax status, saying it is costing the cash-strapped school district $14 million a year in property taxes.

On Wednesday, Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite issued a statement saying, “We have received offers from a number of states and recently conducted site visits and facility tours at a pair of them. We also look forward to continuing our productive and positive discussions with officials here in Illinois.”

Sears is the Chicago area’s fourth-largest publicly traded company by revenue ($43.3 billion in fiscal 2010). The parent of Sears and Kmart employs 290,000 in the United States, including 6,200 at its 200-acre headquarters in Hoffman Estates. Sears paid $213.2 million in Illinois taxes last year, according to company records.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office issued a statement Wednesday saying that he “is in touch with businesses like Sears regularly and understands the needs of job creators.”

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