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From suburban bubble to urban bustle: McDonald's and other companies find hiring boon in moving HQ to the city

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHICAGO -- When Nubia Murray moved to Chicago from Manhattan three years ago to take a corporate job at McDonald's in suburban Oak Brook, Ill., she didn't realize what a culture shock it would be to go "from subway fights to Pleasantville."

The sprawling corporate campus, lush with fountains and greenery, was lovely but felt "stuck in time," said the 35-year-old global marketing manager. Spread out over four buildings in an 88-acre suburban idyll, employees would often drive or take a shuttle to meet with colleagues from other business units.

The energy shift has been palpable since the fast food giant moved its global headquarters to Chicago's booming Fulton Market neighborhood in June 2018, putting it in the heart of the city's restaurant scene and a stone's throw from Google and other envelope-pushing companies, Murray said.

With all 2,000 employees under one roof, decisions happen faster, collaborating is easier, and, McDonald's reports, a lot more people seem to want to work at the world's largest burger chain.

Applications for corporate jobs have increased 20% since the move, totaling 250,000, and tech hires have doubled as the company invests in self-service kiosks, voice-ordering technology and mobile apps. The company has beefed up its campus recruiting and last year launched a two-year program to prepare recent college grads for technology roles; this summer it will debut its first formal technology internship.

"We have aged ourselves backwards," Murray, who lives in the city's South Loop, said as she sat with several colleagues referred by the company to discuss life at the new headquarters. "We have been transformed into such a younger and faster-moving organization."


McDonald's is among a parade of suburban companies that over the past decade have moved their headquarters downtown or opened satellite city offices, mainly to attract and retain talent but also to freshen their brand image and keep closer tabs on what consumers want.

Employees have had to adjust to new commutes and dramatic changes in office space design -- no cubicle walls, lots of social and meeting spaces, quiet rooms designated for focused work and, in the case of McDonald's, no assigned desks.

But companies from McDonald's to Beam Suntory to Conagra to Ferrara Candy say, enthusiastically, that the investments have been worth it.

"It's been so good for our culture and people," said Paula Erickson, chief human resources officer at spirits maker Beam Suntory, which moved to the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago from Deerfield, Ill., three years ago. "It breathes new life into our company."


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