(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 1) Lured by more than $20 million in incentives and other regional advantages, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to Charlotte, N.C.

The company said the relocation will include more than 300 positions currently based in Cincinnati and be complete by the end of 2012. In addition, the company will bring other corporate functions to Charlotte and add 100 positions to the new headquarters from across the U.S.

Ed Loyd, spokesman for the company, said the transition to Charlotte will progress in a major way next summer.

“Long term, our lease here (in Cincinnati) expires Dec. 1 2012 and we envision being fully transitioned by then,” he said.

All the corporate functions will move to the new headquarters in Charlotte.

Chiquita, founded in 1899, was moved to Cincinnati in 1987 from New York. The company has 21,000 employees worldwide and annually markets 13 billion bananas and close to 600 million bags of salad annually.

“There aren’t any changes in the business strategy or the operations,” he said. “This is very much about what was the best place for us to grow the company long term and have the right cost profile.”

Loyd said there will be no effect to the Fresh Express manufacturing plant in Salinas, Calif.  All of Fresh Express agricultural operations — salad research and development, innovations, quality and transportation teams  — will continue to be in Salinas, he said.

However, a number of corporate positions in Salinas will move to Charlotte.

“We’re hopeful a great majority will choose to move with the company,” he said.

Loyd said a good portion of the 100 corporate positions from outside Cincinnati that will relocate to Charlotte will come from Salinas.

Chiquita will offer most of its Cincinnati employees the opportunity to relocate to the North Carolina headquarters.

The consolidation of corporate personnel will help accelerate decision making and execution of business strategy, he said.

The cost of the move will be upwards of $35 million in the next two years, but $24 million will be offset through various incentives in place in North Carolina, Chiquita said in a news release.
Loyd said the company is still negotiating a lease in Charlotte but the company is looking to locate at the NASCAR Plaza in the downtown Charlotte business district.

The company aims to generate cost savings of $4 million annually during the next decade from the benefits of consolidation of locations, lower rental rates and reduced travel costs, the release said.

“After an extensive review of our capabilities and needs, we are confident that Charlotte is the optimal location for our business and that our decision to relocate is in the long-term best interest of our company, customers, employees and shareholders,” Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer, said in the release.

Aguirre said Charlotte gave Chiquita the best opportunity to lower long-term operating costs and gives improved access to international markets through the Charlotte airport.