Split headquarters? JetBlue's CEO says partial move is unlikely

Feb. 12, 2010


Feb. 12--The fight for JetBlue's headquarters is shaping up to be an all-or-nothing battle.

As the New York-based airline ponders whether to move its corporate command center to Orlando, some in Central Florida have held out hope that, even if JetBlue stays put in New York, the airline could move some headquarters jobs to Orlando.

But JetBlue's chief executive said this week that splitting the 800 jobs at stake is an unlikely option.

"Right through the whole process, we've evaluated a split," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's president and chief executive officer. "I really think it's unlikely."

The airline, which on Thursday celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its first flight, has spent the past decade based near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. But it now has a training center at Orlando International Airport and moved a few dozen information-technology jobs here last year, lending credence to the possibility that JetBlue might keep its high-profile perch in New York but take advantage of the lower costs of doing business from Orlando.

But according to Barger, the airline values "the ability to walk down the hall" when doing business internally. "The adjacencies are so important," he said.

For the city of Orlando, the news that there may not be a consolation prize won't change the game plan. Second place, they say, was never anyone's intention.

"We're going out for all of it," said Heather Allebaugh, a city spokeswoman. "Our goal is to have JetBlue's corporate headquarters here in Orlando."

JetBlue said Wednesday it has received "final and best offers" from both New York and Orlando, officially wrapping up a courtship that has lasted about a year. After indicating that it would entertain a headquarters move once its lease in Forest Hills, N.Y., expires in 2012, JetBlue narrowed the playing field this past October to New York and Orlando.

Governments in both areas have offered undisclosed financial incentives. The effort to lure JetBlue to Orlando even reached the halls of Congress, with a dozen of Florida's congressional representatives sending a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist, urging him to "seek every possible source of funding" to offset JetBlue's costs of moving south.

"It's a good position to be in," Barger said of all the attention. "To me, it's an affirmation of how strong JetBlue's brand has been and continues to be."

Regardless of what JetBlue decides to do, Central Florida could benefit from the competition either way, said George Rodon, chief of staff for Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty.

"We've put forth what we think is a great deal, and they're mulling it over," Rodon said. "Hopefully, they'll come here. If they don't, other companies will say, 'Hey, JetBlue looked at Orlando and Central Florida for a potential move. What do they have that we don't know [about]?' "

Sara K. Clarke can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5664.