Safeguarding the jobs of Cadbury’s 2,000 workers in Birmingham and ensuring the city remains at the heart of Kraft’s plans for the chocolate-maker will be top of the agenda when Mike Whitby meets top officials at the company next week.
The head of the city council is leading a delegation of civic, business and education bosses to Chicago where Mr Whitby is meeting senior management from the food giant including it is hoped the corporation’s CEO Irene Rosenfeld.
Kraft recently made Bournville the centre for its global chocolate R&D to drive new product development, new technologies and best practices for brands such as Dairy Milk, Flake and Creme Egg.
However, having closed down Cadbury’s Somerdale plant within months of its controversial takeover last year with the loss of 400 jobs, Coun Whitby is keen to build relationships with Kraft and ensure Birmingham remains a key focus for the company that also owns brands such as Kenco and Philadelphia.
He said: “Birmingham enjoys a special relationship with Chicago.
"We have been twinned since 1993 and particularly with the investment of Kraft Foods in Bournville, continue to develop and strengthen our links with the city.
"The US is a prime target for our investment drive and promoting the opportunities for US companies to build on the success of Kraft’s investment is key.”
Alongside Coun Whitby will be officials from Birmingham Airport who will be meeting one of the world’s largest airlines, Chicago-based United, and the Chicago aviation commissioner, to highlight the need for direct flights between the two cities to be re-introduced.
Additional meetings will also be held with Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago.
Representatives from Business Birmingham, The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University, will also visit the US city to promote Birmingham as a centre of business, investment and educational opportunity.
The US is the largest inward investor to Birmingham and the West Midlands, investing £2 billion since 2003.
More than 350 North American companies, including Microsoft, Motorola and Kraft Foods – which is headquartered in Chicago – provide employment for 60,000 people in the area.
The US invested $9.37 billion in the UK in 2010. This investment was made across 340 projects and created 32,450 jobs. Job creation by US companies in the UK remains strong with the first two months of 2011 showing a rise of 78 per cent – almost doubling last year’s performance.
Wouter Schuitemaker, investment director at Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment programme – who is leading discussions with potential investors in the US – said: “The special trade relationship between the US and UK, and Birmingham more specifically, is very much alive and well.
"The US is an important market for the Birmingham area and, given our relationship with Kraft and our sister city status, Chicago is a strong gateway into this market.
‘‘It is vital that we understand the city’s economy and that we have the relationships in place to access any opportunities and bring more investment and jobs to Birmingham.
“There are many US companies, particularly in R&D, financial and business services that are looking for European bases for their overseas operations.
“We will be meeting a number of these potential investors to show that Birmingham is the ideal location for these hubs – given our location, talent pool and sectoral strengths – and to showcase the opportunities for growth open to those who choose to invest in the area.”
Professor Malcolm Press, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Birmingham, added: “The University of Birmingham has spent the last two years building relationships with the world-leading universities in the greater Chicago area, which have involved academic exchanges in both directions and sharing of intelligence on managing universities in a globally competitive market against a backdrop of change and uncertainty.
‘‘Our engagement with academic partners in Chicago spans the breadth of our expertise, from research on heritage and culture; through resilience, cities and urban living; to psychology, health and exercise.’’