With the stock market taking a nosedive Tuesday, the Utah business community had other things to think about than the $11.7 billion buyout of American Stores by Albertson's, which was announced Monday.
But the mega-merger will likely dominate the business "buzz" for the rest of the year as speculation reigns on just how hard the deal will impact local jobs and downtown real estate."We just don't have any definitive answers yet," said Mike Read, spokesman for the Albert-son's chain in Boise.
"One thing's clear, though; Boise will be the corporate headquarters of the new company, and that will mean a reduced presence in Salt Lake City," where American Stores makes its headquarters with some 2,000 employees.
But reduced presence doesn't mean no presence, emphasized Read in a phone interview with the Deseret News.
"We will consolidate administrative functions, but we also will maintain a presence in Salt Lake on behalf of the combined company. But no decisions have been made yet on how many people we'll need there. We honestly can't get into that until the transaction is closed, and that won't be for six or seven months."
But what about the new $100 million, 25-story office tower that American Stores is still in the process of occupying? Will the reduced presence justify maintaining a facility of that size?
"The building is a different question, but, again, we just don't know yet," said Read. "We have about 1,100 employees here in Boise, and, if the merger is approved, we will be a company nearly 2 1/2 times as large as we are now."
That means Albertson's will likely need more employees than it now has to run the new company, and that could mean some Utah employees will get offers to move to Boise.
And the mood is decidedly upbeat in Idaho's capital, said Read. "People are generally tickled about it. Our employees here are largely optimistic for the opportunities this presents, and they are looking to the future."
There has been speculation that the merger could run into serious antitrust concerns by government regulators who still must approve the buyout, but Read believes Albertson's is prepared for those.
"We have to go through antitrust review, and it's possible we would have to divest some stores, but we don't see it as a big problem. There are only a few markets where we and American Stores overlap in California, but the market is so competitive there that it shouldn't be a problem."
Read said he expects regulators to take a close look at overlapping operations in Las Vegas and Albuquerque, "but, again, we think it's manageable."
Albertson's has 40 stores in Utah, while American Stores has only one, the grocery store in its headquarters building. The future of that store, if any, remains to be decided, according to Read.