Coke could move suburban jobs downtown

Coca-Cola expects to relocate at least 500 workers from suburban Cobb County to downtown Atlanta in the largest single move of private sector employees to the city’s core in recent memory, individuals with knowledge of the company’s plans said Thursday. The pending move is part of a recent surge of in-town migration by large corporations.

Atlanta-based Coke is looking at the SunTrust Banks headquarters complex as its preferred location, according to the two individuals, but a deal has not yet been signed.

Negotiations are said to be in the final phase, and a deal could be wrapped up in the next few weeks, though an insider said Coke could decide to keep its people in their current spot just north of the Perimeter in the Towers at Wildwood complex.

A move in-town would add vibrancy to downtown and could be a boon to restaurants and retailers in the area that depend on patronage from nearby office workers and the city’s convention and tourism business.

The unemployment rate has long been higher inside the Atlanta city limits than the metro average, but metro Atlanta unemployment improved in March to 7.9 percent.

The pickup of Coke jobs in-town would be another recent outlier in a decades’ long trend of major corporations shifting jobs out of downtown to other metro Atlanta locales.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported health care IT firm Athenahealth was in final talks to put hundreds of workers at Ponce City Market, the redevelopment of City Hall East.

The AJC reported last week ExactTarget, a digital marketing firm, has picked Buckhead as the site of a new regional headquarters, where it is expected to employ about 225 people. That deal also is not final, but an announcement could come in the next few weeks.

Coke intends to move at least 500 employees and possibly up to 1,000 workers in its Coca-Cola Refreshments division, the individuals said. The planned relocation reflects the beverage maker’s desire to have a larger portion of its corporate support staff – including information technology personnel – closer to its North Avenue headquarters, the individuals said.

Coke officials declined to confirm the number of jobs to be moved or confirm its intended location.

In an e-mail statement, Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers, said: “Coca-Cola has been evaluating commercial real estate options in the Atlanta market in connection with the upcoming expiration of an existing lease at The Towers at Wildwood Plaza, but no final agreements have been reached.”

The company is seeking at least 250,000 square feet of space.

The Coke workers were formerly part of Atlanta-based bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises, but moved over to mainline Coca-Cola after a 2010 deal that involved Coca-Cola acquiring CCE’s U.S. operations.

Coke has said it has more than 2,000 workers at the Wildwood campus along Windy Hill Road near Powers Ferry Road.

The affected workers occupy 3200 Wildwood in off Windy Hill Road. The company will continue to have workers stationed at the neighboring 2500 Wildwood tower.

As the economy has shown signs of steady, if slow, recovery, downtown hasn’t kept pace with the office leasing momentum of many rival metro submarkets, including Buckhead and the Central Perimeter area.

Office vacancy in downtown stood at 26.2 percent at the end of first quarter, compared to about 21.1 percent for the metro area, according to data from real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

Coke is said to have scouted several buildings in downtown and Midtown over the past several months, among them Bank of America Plaza.

There are about 9,000 Coca-Cola workers in Georgia, including nearly 5,000 at its Midtown headquarters.

If a deal is finalized as expected, the move would continue a long pairing of Coca-Cola and SunTrust. SunTrust predecessor Trust Company of Georgia had a lead role in taking Coca-Cola public in 1919, and for decades the bank was one of Coke’s biggest shareholders.

Coca-Cola previously kept the secret formula for its namesake fizzy beverage in SunTrust’s vault until the beverage giant moved the formula to its World of Coca-Cola museum at Centennial Olympic Park in 2011.

In other jobs news, Southwest Airlines said it is cutting 300 employees at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from its AirTran Airways subsidiary as it moves to dismantle the carrier’s Atlanta hub.

Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this report.