Migrating Firms Don't Worry Officials

Article excerpt

* McDonnell would be the fifth corporate giant to leave in the 1990s, but economic officials say the outlook here is good.

McDonnell Douglas Corp. brings to five the number of corporate heavyweights that have sold out or bailed out of St. Louis in the 1990s.

But to hear economic development officials tell it, it hardly means a thing beyond a minor loss of bragging rights. Boatmen's Bancshares Inc., Southwestern Bell Corp., Pet Inc. and General Dynamics Corp. - all Fortune 500 companies - have moved their corporate headquarters out of town, or sold themselves to out-of-town buyers. Meanwhile, the impending breakup of Monsanto Co. has many employees at its Creve Coeur headquarters worried. In the past three years, St. Louis has dropped from sixth to 10th in the nation among metropolitan areas ranked by the number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. The St. Louis area is host to 10 such firms now, but the impending sales of Boatmen's and McDonnell Douglas could knock St. Louis a few notches down the list. What does it mean to have so many corporate feathers plucked from St. Louis' cap? Not much, says Joseph Driskill, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Driskill is the state's chief economic salesman, charged with attracting new industry to the state. St. Louis boasts of its headquarters trophies in national advertising. "We want people to know we're not stuck out in the middle of nowhere," Driskill said. But headquarters counts are not high on the priority lists for out-of-town firms hunting new locations, he says. They are more interested in transportation, costs and a good workforce. Driskill notes that McDonnell and Boatmen's are not selling out because business conditions in St. Louis are bad. McDonnell's problems have centered mostly on its commercial airliner business in California, rather than its St. …