St. Louis
Credit: Ron Reiring/Flickr

President-elect Trump’s recent deal to keep factory workers employed at Indiana-based Carrier Corporation has been a public relations blitz. But while pundits are debating whether the terms are a repackaged form of “corporate welfare,” or perhaps a model of strident economic nationalism, they’re once again missing the larger issue: the role that corporate consolidation is playing in destroying jobs and hollowing out the civic cultures of cities throughout America’s heartland.

Consider what’s happened over just the past few days. Monsanto shareholders approved a $66 billion merger with Bayer, a German multinational pharmaceutical and chemical company. That deal will see Monsanto’s headquarters moved overseas, dropping the number of St. Louis Fortune 500 companies to eight, down from 12 in 2000. While Monsanto has promised to keep its 4,100 employees in the Greater St. Louis Metro Area, Bayer has pledged cost savings of $1.5 billion in “synergies.” St. Louisans have heard this tune before—they know all too well this is merely plain-speak for cutting duplicative jobs.

In 2008, the Gateway city’s residents watched as Belgium-based InBev acquired commercial cornerstone Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion. At the time, the company employed 6,000 people in the St. Louis metro area, and promised it would keep St. Louis as a central hub for at least some of the company’s operations. By 2011, the last year Anheuser-Busch released St. Louis employment numbers, however, the company had trimmed its workforce to 4,000 employees. And just last year, Anheuser-Busch moved its North America sales and marketing operations from St. Louis to New York.

St. Louisians also learned this week that Boeing, which purchased St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas in 1997, is planning to relocate its defense unit headquarters to Washington D.C. While that decision will see the loss of only 50 employees, more than a dozen of them are company executives—those employees who are most likely to get involved in a city’s civic affairs and philanthropic efforts.

Much the same story is occurring in other communities across the heartland. During the first quarter of 2016 alone, there were 210 merger and acquisitions of companies headquartered in the Midwest. The deals totaled $87.6 billion, almost double the region’s historical average of $43.3 billion, according to Mergermarket, a company that tracks mergers and acquisitions. Dow and DuPont’s announced $130 billion merger already has resulted in the loss of 175 jobs at Des Moines’s DuPont Pioneer facility, and in Central Michigan, 700 jobs, the equivalent of 8% of the company’s total Michigan workforce.

It’s also likely that the “efficiencies” of any deal will result in fewer investments in research & development. Both Monsanto and Bayer argue that they will be able to pool their collective resources to create new seed technologies, but one longitudinal study, that tracked how much a company invested in research and development after a merger, found that the merging companies, as well as their competitors, spent less on research and development after the deals closed.

Other notable transactions in the Midwest this year include Ireland-based Shire’s $35.2 billion acquisition of Chicago-based pharmaceutical giant Baxalta Inc.; China’s Angang Insurance Group’s $6.5 billion purchase of Strategic Hotels & Resorts, which has real estate holdings across the U.S.; and Canada-based Fortis Inc’s $11.3 billion acquisition of Michigan-based utility company ITC Holdings Corporation. There’s also the possibility that in the coming months, Brazilian-based 3G Capital will purchase Minneapolis-based General Mills, which employs 39,000 workers. Low interest rates, as well as a reversal of the nation’s anti-monopoly laws over the past three decades, have spurred a flurry of 2016 deal-making.

For all of President-elect Trump’s focus on “saving” jobs by preventing them from leaving the U.S., he would be better suited to address the problem that Midwesterners are actually facing. Rates of off-shoring, according to MarketWatch, actually have decreased over the past decade. In 2014, American companies offshored only 50,000 manufacturing jobs, compared to 150,000 in 2003. Even more, 60,000 manufacturing jobs were added in 2014, resulting in a net gain of 10,000 manufacturing jobs. The more pressing issue, therefore, is stopping corporate consolidation—and the jobs, talent, and technological innovations being wrested from the heartland.

Brian S. Feldman

Brian S. Feldman is a researcher-reporter with the Open Markets Program at New America and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis.