United plans to shift 900 workers, flight control center to Arlington Heights

  • United Airlines is moving 900 operations workers to this former Motorola campus building at 1501 W. Shure Drive in Arlington Heights.

      United Airlines is moving 900 operations workers to this former Motorola campus building at 1501 W. Shure Drive in Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2020

  • United Airlines is moving 900 operations workers to this former Motorola campus building at 1501 W. Shure Drive in Arlington Heights.

    United Airlines is moving 900 operations workers to this former Motorola campus building at 1501 W. Shure Drive in Arlington Heights. Daily Herald file photo, 2019

 
 
Updated 12/2/2021 7:09 PM

United Airlines will move about 900 employees and its primary flight control center from the Willis Tower to Arlington Heights next year, officials said Thursday.

The carrier will be using an existing workplace at the former Motorola campus for its network operations center, which handles United's domestic and global flights.

 

"We're very happy to have them, and it's a result of a lot of hard work by the (village's) planning department," Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.

The shift does not mean United is abandoning its Chicago footprint, spokesman Charles Hobart said.

"In terms of whether United is considering moving its headquarters out of downtown, the answer is no," Hobart said. "We remain committed to the city of Chicago -- at our headquarters we're investing millions of dollars in our collaboration spaces in Willis Tower."

"Following the transition, we expect about 2,500 United employees will continue to work out of Willis Tower, roughly the same number of employees we had in the city 10 years ago," Hobart said.

He added that about 400 network operations employees, including those in "key leadership roles," will stay at the Willis Tower.

United will maintain a backup network operations center at the Willis Tower.

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Hayes on Thursday confirmed United's choice of a 195,300-square-foot office building at 1501 W. Shure Drive, on the former Motorola campus east of Route 53 and south of Dundee Road. Nearby on the sprawling site is an Amazon distribution center, and an HSBC and Northrop Grumman office building.

Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village's director of planning and community development, confirmed United inked a purchase deal with Torburn Partners, the property manager that redeveloped the old Motorola site and initially secured a lease with United in 2019.

In September 2019, the village board approved changes to a previously approved development plan for the site, also known as Northwest Crossings, and nine variations to village code that paved the way for United's relocation.

At the time, United requested anonymity during the public review process due to "sensitive security protocols in the interest of public safety," the property manager told village officials.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Upgrades included installation of an 8-foot-tall security fence around the site, gated entry points with guard houses, two large generators, stormwater improvements and a reconfiguration of parking lots.

When flooding at the Willis Tower in summer 2020 took out the electricity, United operated flights out of its Arlington Heights offices, officials said.

Perkins said the relocation is part of a phased expansion approach into the Arlington Heights building United officials first discussed with him years ago.

"It's a big building. It was previously home to Motorola and Nokia, and to have that building back fully operational with the jobs it brings to the community and support for the other businesses, that's really exciting," Perkins said.

The development comes as the Chicago Bears are considering a move to Arlington Heights as well, to occupy Arlington Park.

United's decision means positive tax benefits for the village and other taxing bodies including school districts, as well as a boost to the local economy with the new employees spending their money on goods and services, Perkins said.

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