Chris Carr, Georgia's economic development commissioner, pitches the state as the "back office of the world" because of its payments processing businesses.

Georgia angling for Brazilian ‘fintech’ business

SAO PAULO — Gov. Nathan Deal and delegates on a trade mission to Brazil put the hard sell this week on the country’s biggest credit card processor to make a major expansion in Georgia.

Deal and other top Georgia business and economic development leaders met on Thursday with the senior team at Cielo, which plans to grow its presence in the U.S.

Georgia officials declined to say much about the visit, but people with knowledge of the situation have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a major new operations center and possibly an innovation lab involving high-paid software and other tech jobs are believed to be part of Cielo’s U.S. expansion plans.

Georgia is trying to bolster its perch as the hub of the U.S. financial processing industry, and landing the big Brazilian player would do that. Cielo is a ubiquitous presence in restaurants and stores throughout Brazilian cities.

The firm’s U.S. subsidiary, Merchant e-Solutions, is based in California and has only a small sales team in the Atlanta area. Georgia leaders were scheduled to meet Thursday with CEO Romulo de Mello Dias to try to convince him to pick metro Atlanta for more operations.

Financial technology, known as fintech in the industry, already is big in Georgia. About 40,000 people work in about 100 firms based in the state, mostly in metro Atlanta.

Roughly 70 percent of all U.S. electronic transactions pass through Georgia, according to industry trade group the American Transaction Processors Coalition.

Fintech in Georgia ranges from Fortune 500s, such as NCR, which makes automated tellers, checkout systems and software, to companies like First Data that actually process debit, credit and other electronic transactions. There are also numerous information security and other ancillary businesses that support the industry.

Atlanta tech leaders flew into Sao Paulo from Atlanta for a private meeting with Cielo executives on Wednesday before Deal’s meeting.

The governor said part of his pitch involved Google’s recently-announced plans to offer high-speed Internet across parts of metro Atlanta.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the financial tech industry and we expect that to continue,” Deal said prior to the meeting. “It all feeds together to create a perfect storm for us to continue to see more growth.

Chris Carr, the state’s economic development commissioner, pitches Georgia as the “back office of the world.”

“The number one issue that everyone we meet with talks about is workforce,” said Carr. “And we’ve got it.”

In a brief interview Thursday, Carr called the confab “very good and very productive.”

The ATPC, a relatively new trade organization, is pushing the importance of the industry. The state Department of Economic Development, Invest Atlanta and other local recruitment agencies have made fintech recruitment a top priority. The industry generally creates jobs with high wages and require skilled programmers and engineers.

Several top companies have added to their operations here, or announced plans to do so, in recent years.

NCR recently announced it will shift its headquarters to Midtown in 2017 or 2018. Wisconsin-based processor Fiserv recently consolidated metro Atlanta operations and announced plans to add hundreds of jobs at a new campus Alpharetta. Worldpay US will move its headquarters from Sandy Springs to Midtown, while also adding about 600 jobs and developing a fintech incubator in conjunction with Georgia Tech.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley giants such as Square, which makes a device for small merchants to accept electronic payments on mobile devices, have opened offices in Atlanta.

“This is a (sector of) technology that is going to be important for as far as the eye can see and it is Georgia grown,” Carr said. “It is part of us.”

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