As Sears continues to bleed jobs at its corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates, village officials are working to stay a step ahead of whatever fate befalls the once mighty retail chain.
Transform Holdco LLC, the company that bought Sears Holdings in a bankruptcy sale this year, confirmed reports Thursday that it was eliminating about 250 positions at the headquarters. A company spokesman said the actions were taken last week.
"Affected employees will be placed on a paid administrative leave effective immediately for the time prior to the employment termination date," Sears stated in a letter sent Aug. 29 to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
The spokesman would not say what positions were eliminated, or if severance packages were offered to those affected by the cuts.
The action is the latest in several staff reductions and store closings announced by the company in recent years. It closed several Kmart stores last month, including one in southwest suburban Bridgeview. That leaves the Des Plaines store as the only Kmart in Illinois. Just four Sears stores remain in the suburbs.
Officials in Hoffman Estates have been looking at options if the company decides to shut down or relocate its headquarters from the current facility in the Prairie Stone development north of the Jane Addams Tollway.
"We saw the writing on the wall over the past few years," said Kevin Kramer, Hoffman Estates' economic development director. "We hope to work with them so we can still be a part of their vision."
In Sears' case, Kramer said it is very difficult to monetize the impact the company's struggle has on the village because of several variables. For example, he noted, Sears had its own food court and day care facilities on campus, which kept many employees from traveling outside to spend money at other village businesses.
Compounding the issue is the current number of headquarters employees is unknown. The company spokesman would not provide that number, which is at the center of a lawsuit filed against the company late last year by Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300. That lawsuit, which Hoffman Estates is a part of, looks to halt tax payments made to Sears through a state-sponsored tax credit program. Under that, validation of the tax credits is dependent on Sears maintaining a minimum number of jobs at its headquarters.
Patti Cross, assistant corporation counsel for Hoffman Estates, said the lawsuit became part of the Sears' bankruptcy case in New York, where the judge kicked it back to Illinois to resolve. Arguments in the case are set for Oct. 7, Cross said.
Nonetheless, Kramer said the village is looking at the future of the western region of the village, which includes the Sears property. A study done by the Lakota Group that was presented in July outlines plans for the Prairie Stone area and -- while not specific to the Sears property -- includes plans for mixed use office, entertainment retail and potential residential development.
"We would definitely see a mixed use plan for property" if Sears were to leave the site, Kramer said.
Whatever happens to Sears, Kramer said the village is in a good position to handle a loss because of its diversity in businesses. He noted that in 2000, more than 13,000 employees worked at Sears and the AT&T headquarters campus. AT&T has since left the village and that campus is being redeveloped.
"We've lost a part of that 13,000 employees and it has not crippled our economy," he said. "We're not relying solely on Sears for the western part of Hoffman Estates."