Applebee’s to KC and Missouri: Thanks for all those incentives, now see ya!

Kansas City was a bus stop for Applebee’s International between its trip from Lenexa to Los Angeles County.

The casual-dining chain’s parent company, DineEquity, said on Friday that it would move its corporate headquarters from Ward Parkway to Glendale, California — a suburb of Los Angeles. It will cut 100 employees or so and leave about 90 in Kansas City to tend to back-office support duties.

Applebee’s didn’t call Kansas City its home for long. It moved here from Lenexa in 2011. As is the case with most intra-metro relocations, it received incentives to do so. Missouri offered up $12.5 million in incentives. Most of that came under what was then the Missouri Quality Jobs program. The incentive allows companies to retain employee withholding taxes for itself. 

Missouri Quality Jobs was meant to last five years, which makes Applebee’s corporate relocation after four years of sopping up withholding taxes seem particularly cynical. 

The incentive was meant to lure jobs to Missouri, even though the move from Lenexa to just across the state line wasn’t far enough for Missouri to meaningfully call the 390 Applebee’s employees who made the move to Ward Parkway “new jobs.” The main benefit in retrospect was that it filled some of an office building near Ward Parkway Mall that had been left mostly empty after subprime mortgage company NovaStar supernova-ed during the housing crash of 2008.

Either way, those “new” Applebee’s jobs didn’t grow when they landed in Missouri. They declined. Media reports say Applebee’s currently has 200 or so in its Kansas City office.

Local city leaders often tout the idea of “adding” jobs to their community and laugh off questions about the use of incentives to lure those jobs. But think for a minute about what has happened with Applebee’s. When it moved from Lenexa to Kansas City, thanks to the $12.5 million from the taxpayers, it left a building empty in Lenexa. 

Lenexa moved quickly, convincing the General Services Administration Lenexa got lucky when the General Services Administration decided to move employees from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the old Applebee’s office building there. They previously worked in a downtown Kansas City, Kansas, office building at Fourth and Minnesota Avenue. Before the move, the EPA was a major employer in KCK. It was thought that the EPA’s presence might help hasten KCK’s downtown revival. Since 2011, that building has been empty, and probably will be so for a while.

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