In 2018, more than 40 years after leaving Chicago for the suburbs, McDonald’s moved its headquarters to Chicago’s West Loop. The company is clear about the reason: access to a greater pool of talent.
In recent years, the human resources department noted that most job applicants lived in Oakbrook, and McDonald’s was not attracting the broader labor pool who live in the city and would not consider commuting to the suburbs. Previous efforts to run a shuttle bus from the Metra station in Elmhurst to the office campus were not enough to entice reverse commutes. Retention was also a problem as it was difficult to retain lower-wage workers whose commutes required two buses. Therefore, the company decided the solution was to relocate to a central, transit-accessible location.
McDonald’s new location in the West Loop is two blocks from the Morgan Green Line CTA station. It is ¾ of a mile (a 15 minute walk or six minute bike ride) from Ogilvie Metra and just under a mile to Union Station where Metra south and west side lines and Amtrak operate. McDonald’s runs its own fleet of shuttle buses from four Metra train stations in downtown Chicago to supplement the CTA fixed route transit system. Shuttles operate every five to seven minutes during rush hour periods so that employees can be in the office within 15 minutes of train arrival. Employees can also walk and ride Divvy bikeshare for the last mile from Metra stations.
With the previous location quite inaccessible by transit, the vast majority of employees had been used to driving to work. The transition to mostly transit commutes required a major program of education and support. McDonald’s has been heavily promoting pretax transit benefits and is paying for the first year of transit fares to facilitate the transition. Prior to the move, McDonald’s gave employees free tickets to a neighborhood street festival and encouraged them to try the commute on Metra on a weekend, to get used to riding Metra during a quiet period.
McDonald’s planned only 295 parking spaces in its new building for its 2,500 employees and employees must pay to park. Before the move, employees were encouraged to drive downtown at rush hour one day to experience the commute by car. While before the move only one third of employees planned to ride transit to work, now more than 90 percent of workers arrive via non-auto modes, mostly Metra and CTA.
Just in the first two months of being in its new location, McDonald’s is attracting larger numbers of higher-quality job applicants, given the location is accessible to a larger labor pool. McDonald’s notes that the move wasn’t only an address change, it was also a culture change.