Fortune 500 list overstates Atlanta’s headquarters rank

By Maria Saporta
Friday, June 03, 2011

Atlanta has for years taken great pride in being a top five city for Fortune 500 headquarters.

In fact this year, Fortune magazine proclaimed Atlanta was tied for third (up from fourth) with Dallas, with each city having 10 Fortune 500 company headquarters. The Fortune 500 issue was published May 23.
But Fortune’s list is flawed.

Atlanta’s true rank actually is several notches lower, according to a review by Atlanta Business Chronicle of different communities with large clusters of Fortune 500 headquarters.

Fortune’s list is incorrect because it does not compare metro areas with metro areas, or even cities with cities. Instead, the magazine’s methodology is a mishmash where some metro areas are compared to cities, or some measure in between.

A spokesperson for Fortune put it this way: “Fortune does not rank regions, SMSAs (Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas) or ‘greater’ area lists that would include suburbs. It only uses city headquarters as reported in company annual filings.”

Georgia has 14 Fortune 500 company headquarters: Ten of those companies have Atlanta addresses even though several are located outside Atlanta’s city limits, including The Home Depot Inc. (with offices in the Atlanta suburb of Vinings), Genuine Parts Co. and Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. (both in Cobb County), and United Parcel Service Inc. and Newell Rubbermaid Inc. (both in Sandy Springs).

But the Fortune list of Atlanta headquarters excludes two Fortune 500 companies that call the Atlanta area home: AGCO Corp. and NCR Corp., both based in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, Ga.

Similar discrepancies exist in Fortune’s rankings of other cities.
Like Atlanta, Fortune lists Dallas as having 10 Fortune 500 headquarters. But that list does not include the companies based in Fort Worth, Plano or Irving, all part of the same metro area.

The Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce actually lists 22 Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in its region.

According to Fortune, the two cities that follow Atlanta in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters are Minneapolis, with nine; and Chicago, with eight.

But again, those numbers are misleading.

“Nineteen of the Minnesota’s 20 Fortune 500 companies are in the Minneapolis region,” said Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, a territory that also includes the city of St. Paul. “We like rankings because we usually fare well with them. People who don’t really have a sense of Minneapolis-St. Paul are astounded that we have so many Fortune 500 companies for a market our size.”

Then there’s Chicago.

Instead of just having eight Fortune 500 headquarters, World Business Chicago lists 28 Fortune 500 companies in its community. But some of them lists their addresses as Naperville, Hoffman Estates, Lake Forest or Glenwood — all part of the Greater Chicago area.

In fact, Chicago has done its own analysis of city rankings of Fortune 500 headquarters, and it has determined that its second only to New York City in the number of companies.

In Chicago’s list, Atlanta’s rank actually is tied with Detroit and Boston with 12 Fortune 500 headquarters. That would mean they are tied for ninth among cities with Fortune 500 headquarters.

In Fortune’s rankings, Atlanta’s main competitor in the Southeast — Charlotte — is said to have seven Fortune 500 headquarters. But the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce lists 10 headquarters.

Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, is sticking by Fortune 500’s list of city rankings.

“Fortune is the owner of the brand ‘Fortune 500,’ and if they say we’re tied for third, I’m not arguing with them,” Williams wrote in an e-mail.

He also noted that AGL Resources Inc., which is not currently on the list, is expected to become a Fortune 500 company when its acquisition of Nicor Inc. is completed.

“However you pick the label — Atlanta is still recognized as a global business capital on the move,” Williams said.

Being known as a Fortune 500 city gives a community bragging rights as well as other tangible advantages. Top executives tend to have a greater stake in the communities where their headquarters are based. And there actually are economic advantages.

“The reason people want Fortune 500 companies is because of all the ancillary companies that drive those companies,” said Klingel of the Minneapolis chamber.

Asked about Fortune magazine stating that Atlanta has more Fortune 500 headquarters than Minneapolis, Klingel said he looks at the data differently.

“The Minneapolis region apparently has more Fortune 500 companies than the Atlanta region, but don’t get me into a tug of war with Sam Williams,” Klingel said. “We are just happy to have them.”

In a follow-up email, Klingel said that it’s normal for city leaders to use whatever rankings make them look good.

“I do think that all local interests seek out whatever third party statistics put their community to best advantage,” Klingel said. “This ranking by Fortune provides such an opportunity and bodes well for Minneapolis and Atlanta.”

From Fortune Magazine’s 2011 rankings:
Cities with 5 or more FORTUNE 500 headquarters:

City State Number of 
Fortune 500 companies
New York NY 45
Houston TX 22
Dallas TX 10
Atlanta GA 10
Minneapolis MN 9
Chicago IL 8
St. Louis MO 8
San Francisco CA 8
Charlotte NC 7
Cincinnati OH 6
Cleveland CO 5
Columbus OH 5
Englewood CO 5
Los Angeles CA 5
McLean VA 5
Milwaukee WI 5
Omaha NE 5
Philadelphia PA 5
Phoenix AZ 5
Pittsburgh PA 5
Richmond VA 5
San Antonio TX 5

2011 Georgia FORTUNE 500 (14)
2011 Metro Atlanta FORTUNE 500

Company Fortune 500 rank City
1 Home Depot 30 Atlanta
2 United Parcel Service 48 Atlanta
3 Coca-Cola 70 Atlanta
4 Delta Air Lines 88 Atlanta
5 Aflac 125 Columbus
6 Southern 147 Atlanta
7 Genuine Parts 215 Atlanta
8 First Data 236 Atlanta
9 SunTrust Banks 244 Atlanta
10 AGCO 340 Duluth
11 Coca-Cola Enterprises 347 Atlanta
12 Newell Rubbermaid 397 Atlanta
13 Mohawk Industries 427 Calhoun
14 NCR 469 Duluth
Issue date: May 23, 2011

From the World Business Chicago website
(based on Fortune’s 2010 rankings)
Number of Fortune 500 Headquarters in Top U.S. Metro Areas (MSAs)

Name Fortune 500 HQ’s
New York 70
Chicago 28
Houston 26
Dallas 24
Los Angeles 21
San Francisco 18
Washington, D.C. 17
Philadelphia 14
Boston 12
Detroit 12
Atlanta 12
Source: Fortune, May 3, 2010, Hoover’s, Inc.

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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