A prospective merger with United Airlines has Continental hitching a direct flight out of its Houston world headquarters — but Mayor Annise Parker is taking action against losing anything from one of the city's top employers and corporate heavyweights.
Parker, County Judge Ed Emmett and the Greater Houston Partnership have sent a letter to Continental chairman, president and CEO Jeff Smisek and United's chairman, president and CEO, Glenn Tilton.
"We speak with one voice on behalf of Houston's citizens and business community," the letter states, "in saying Houston is the natural and most favorable location for the airline's headquarters." Parker is suggesting Houston's pro-business environment, low cost of living and "excellent" quality of life as basic reasons to remain in Houston.
She also cites that Houston is home to 3,000 international companies (25 of which are Fortune 500 companies), 22 foreign banks and 92 foreign consulates. The letter mentions our convenient geographic location as a gateway to Latin America, as well as renown financial, medical, nanotechnology and shipping sectors.
"A merged airline company, the largest in the world," the letter reads, "would fit well into this environment."
Despite Parker's enthusiasm, there are indications that the love note might be too tardy. As the Chicago Tribune reports, Continental's board of directors is to meet today to consider the merger with United, which will be confirmed within a matter of days.
The Tribune quotes sources saying that the merged carrier would keep the United brand, "which carries far greater name recognition overseas than does Continental.
"The new company would be headquartered in Chicago and led by Continental CEO Jeff Smisek," the Tribune explains. Sadly for Annise and Houston, there appears to be little debate beyond City Hall about Continental's future world base. United is already moving from its offices in suburban Elk Grove Township to downtown Chicago's iconic Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).
Whereas Annise and Co. sent out a much-delayed letter, the city of Chicago already had the merger in the bag, encouraged by $35 million in incentives for the downtown move up. Parker says that Houston is willing to match those incentives.
This all comes at a time when Houston is taking major hits to its top employers — there are still as many as 11,500-potential layoffs looming with the NASA changes. If we can learn anything from that upset, it's that prayer and cookies can get us through any corporate conundrum.