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Atlanta’s Fortune 500 ranking not as big as city likes to brag it is

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 10, 2016

The Atlanta region likes to boast of being a hub of Fortune 500 company headquarters – bragging that it has the third-highest concentration in the country – an assertion included in the video shown in the city’s presentation that helped it recently win the 2019 Super Bowl.

But that’s an overstatement at best.

In fact, Atlanta’s high watermark as a Fortune 500 company region may have come in 2015 when there were 18 companies in the prestigious list.

In the 2016 list, which was just released on June 6, the metro area’s number dropped to 16 despite the addition of Veritiv Corp. to the list. (Two other Fortune 500s–Aflac Inc. and Mohawk Industries Inc.–are based in Columbus and Calhoun, Ga., respectively, giving the state a total of 18. See nearby list.)

Atlanta lost RockTenn when it merged with MeadWestVaco to become WestRock, which is based in Richmond, Va. (even though the CEO works primarily out of Atlanta).

Two companies also fell off the 500 list since 2015 – Arris Group and AGL Resources Inc. AGL had just made it to the Fortune 500 list in 2015 for the first time, but its acquisition by Southern Co. means it will never make the list again.

And the 2016 list of Atlanta-based Fortune 500 companies includes two companies that won’t be on a 2017 list – Newell Brands, which recently announced it is moving its headquarters to Hoboken, N.J., and Coca-Cola European Partners (formerly Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.), which will be based in London. Unless new companies are added to the list, Atlanta’s total will drop to 14 next year.

“We’re proud that 25 Fortune 1000 companies call metro Atlanta home,” said Hala Moddelmog, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber in a statement to Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Of those brands, 16 made today’s Fortune 500 list and 9 made the Fortune 1000 list.”

Mary Laschinger Suzanne Mulcay

Veritiv CEO Mary Laschinger poses for photos with Suzanne Mulcay, the one outside shareholder who attended the company’s 2016 annual meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Moddelmog also highlighted the addition of Veritiv.

“We’re also excited that Sandy Springs-based Veritiv made the list for the first time, debuting at No. 323,” Moddelmog said. “As the first female CEO of a Georgia-based Fortune 500, Mary Laschinger’s leadership and command of business issues are welcomed by all of us who are committed to a growing and thriving Atlanta business community.”

But how does Atlanta stack up against other cities?

Fortune identifies the headquarters of companies based on what they report in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Scott DeCarlo, who oversees the list for the magazine. According to that list, Atlanta has 13 Fortune 500 companies compared to 22 in Houston and 47 in New York City.

But those totals don’t tell the real story of each region.

For example, the list says three companies are based in Duluth – so that would give metro Atlanta a total of 16.

Two cities – Chicago and Dallas – each have nine headquarters, according to Fortune’s list. But those numbers are grossly understated.

After the 2016 list was released, World Business Chicago listed 36 Fortune 500 companies in its region – a net gain of four from 2015.

In addition to companies with Chicago SEC addresses, World Business Chicago lists companies based in Deerfield, Oak Brook, Northbrook, Hoffman Estates, Rosemont, Abbott Park, Glenview and Lake Forest, among others in the Chicago region.

It’s a similar situation for the Dallas-Fort Worth region. After the 2016 list came out, the Dallas Morning News reported that the region is home to 21 Fortune 500 companies, a gain of two companies from 2015. It also said that Houston has 25 Fortune 500 companies.

Other metro areas with high concentrations of Fortune 500 companies include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul. As of press time, it was difficult to figure out how metro Atlanta’s headquarters compared to theirs.

But in just reviewing companies in Chicago and Dallas, it is clear Atlanta has fewer headquarters than both those regions — which would drop the city’s ranking to at least fifth.

  • New York: 47* (from Fortune’s list)
  • Chicago: 36 (from World Business Chicago)
  • Houston: 25 (Dallas Morning News)
  • Dallas: 21 (Dallas Morning News)
  • Atlanta: 16 (Metro Atlanta Chamber)

Adam Bruns, managing editor of Atlanta-based Site Selection Magazine, said the Fortune 500 list “can be overplayed” by cities.

“There are many companies that would be the Fortune 1000 or the Fortune 2000 list that any city would want,” Bruns said. “If you get a regional headquarters or a research-development facility — they might not be the bragging points of a Fortune 500 headquarters, they are still really meaningful to a community.”

But Bruns added that a city benefits by having the presence of a CEO in their community.

A month ago, Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch came to Atlanta to meet with local CEOs to urge them to consider her state for possible future investment.

As Bruns said, “That trip showed the importance of Atlanta as a headquarters city and as a corporate operations center.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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