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Company's job offerings projected to increase
[July 15, 2008]

Company's job offerings projected to increase

(Florida Times-Union, The (Jacksonville) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jul. 15--As his Belgian company announced a merger with Anheuser-Busch Cos. Monday, InBev SA Chief Executive Carlos Brito renewed his pledge to maintain the operations of Anheuser-Busch's U.S. breweries, including one in Jacksonville that employs about 750.

"Our commitment is that all 12 breweries will remain open," Brito said in a conference call.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. said early Monday it had agreed to a sweetened $52 billion takeover bid from InBev, creating the world's largest brewer and heading off what was shaping up as an acrimonious fight for the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light beers. InBev brands include Stella Artois, Beck's and Bass.

The combined company will be called Anheuser-Busch InBev. As of the end of last week, InBev said it would be the world's third largest consumer products company by market capitalization after Procter & Gamble of the United States and Nestle SA of Switzerland.

The Anheuser-Busch board accepted the higher takeover offer Sunday night from Belgian-based InBev, according to a joint news release.

Shareholders will receive $70 a share, a $5 increase over the offer Anheuser-Busch rejected in June.

Both companies' shareholders must approve the deal, as must U.S. and EU antitrust regulators. The deal is expected to close by year-end.

Brito was noncommittal about other operations and said that he has a list of noncore assets that may be sold off. But a local union president is cautiously optimistic that InBev will continue operating a Jacksonville can-making plant owned by Anheuser-Busch.

United Steelworkers Local 8461 represents about 160 workers at the plant. An official with the union, who asked not to be named, said management of the Metal Container Corp. plant talked with Anheuser- Busch officials Monday in St. Louis.

They were told that Brito is happy with the plant because of its low costs, and InBev may even expand the operation in the future.

Calls to the Jacksonville beer and can plants Monday were referred to Anheuser-Busch's St. Louis headquarters, which referred calls to InBev.

Brito would not identify the noncore assets that are on his list of possible divestitures. "In due course, we'll announce them," he said.

Anheuser-Busch last month announced an early retirement package for salaried workers that could result in 1,200 fewer jobs around the country.

Brito said he supports that program but otherwise did not indicate any coming job cuts.

In fact, Brito said the company is likely to expand Anheuser-Busch operations that InBev keeps. He said the company has created 12,000 new jobs since Belgium-based Interbrew merged with Brazil-based AmBev to form InBev in 2004.

"It's always been our view that job creation comes with business growth," Brito said.

Anheuser-Busch CEO August Busch IV said in the conference call that he doesn't expect the U.S. breweries to begin making InBev beer brands. He said U.S. consumers put a higher value on imported beer, so the U.S. breweries will continue making their familiar domestic brands such as Budweiser and Michelob.

"In the short term, I don't see that footprint changing. But I do see additional opportunities for new products or innovations" with its existing brands, Busch said.

Brito said employees should see the merger as a positive for the company.

"It's a great company and a stronger company that will be much better for all stakeholders," he said.

Anheuser-Busch employees are not the only ones who could be affected by changes at the company. Tampa-based Anchor Glass Container Corp. has a Jacksonville plant with more than 200 employees that mainly makes bottles for the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Anchor CEO Brian Bussell said he hasn't heard anything from InBev or Anheuser-Busch, but he expects InBev would want to continue getting bottles for the Jacksonville brewery from the local Anchor plant.

"We're in a good geographic position to support them," Bussell said.

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