NCR mulled Georgia cuts before Midtown move

Financial technology giant NCR considered cutting its Gwinnett County workforce and moving jobs out of Georgia before announcing a plan last month to build a new headquarters campus in Midtown, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In several emails the day after NCR’s announcement, Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson wrote that the university’s involvement in recruiting NCR “has actually saved jobs for Georgia.”

NCR announced its move to Midtown fewer than six years after it accepted up to $109 million in incentives to move its headquarters to Georgia from Ohio, promising more than 2,000 jobs.

The Midtown relocation was billed as a way for the Fortune 500 company to be closer to top talent at Georgia Tech, but the documents show for the first time that the company was willing to eliminate Georgia jobs.

“Although NCR had just recently moved to Gwinnett, when we started our conversations with them they were considering downsizing there and moving folks from Gwinnett to out of state,” Peterson wrote Jan. 14 in separate emails to several high-profile officials.

“Somehow this got pitched as a Gwinnett vs. Atlanta issue, when in reality it was Georgia vs. somewhere else,” he wrote.

An NCR spokesman declined to comment on whether the company had considered cutting jobs or moving them out of the state.

The emails obtained by the AJC through a Georgia Open Records Act request shed new light on NCR’s discussions between city of Atlanta and university officials before NCR went public with its plan to shift 3,600 workers to a new complex at Technology Square in Midtown. A second suburban campus is also planned at a yet-unannounced site.

It’s unclear if downsizing in Georgia is actually off the table as a result of the Midtown move. NCR in July said it planned to eliminate 1,800 full-time jobs globally, though 900 could be added back within a year or two.

Whether NCR hinted at downsizing or said it would move coveted technology jobs out of Georgia as a ploy to leverage more financial incentives is also unknown. Atlanta economic development officials declined comment and directed questions to NCR.

The city of Atlanta has agreed to provide a $3.2 million grant to be paid out of its reserve fund to induce the move. That, however, could be just a small part of a local incentives package that could include property tax breaks.

Leaving Ohio

Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said NCR didn’t give him an opportunity to try to keep the company in Dayton, its home for more than 100 years, when it left in 2009.

“If I was Atlanta, I would try to make sure there were some iron-clad agreements if multiple millions of dollars are being provided in incentives,” he told the AJC. “Given the rather recent history of the company, it’s important.”

In an email to Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash after NCR’s announcement, Gwinnett commissioner Tommy Hunter said NCR’s move is one reason he doesn’t like incentives. He expects the company’s announced northern campus will be “somewhere ‘cool’ like Alpharetta or Sandy Springs,” and not in Gwinnett.

“We can’t compete,” he wrote.

The AJC reported nearly a year ago that NCR was considering building a major operations center in Midtown. About a month later, the newspaper reported that documents showed NCR considered asking Georgia Tech’s foundation to spend as much as $30 million to buy land for a new corporate campus near the school.

No Tech incentives

Peterson was not available for an interview this week, but said in a statement that neither the university nor its affiliates provided incentives to NCR as part of this move. His emails did say the NCR relocation will “significantly help to further energize” a second phase of the Technology Square development near the university.

The emails obtained by the AJC show some virtual high-fiving among ranking Georgia Tech officials after the formal NCR announcement. But it also included Peterson’s sobering assessment of the discussions.

Peterson wrote several emails stating that Georgia was in danger of losing NCR jobs. His messages were in response to notes of congratulations about the NCR announcement and its reflection on Georgia Tech.

Peterson’s messages equated NCR’s decision with that of Worldpay US, a payments firm that announced in recent months its intent to move from Sandy Springs to Atlantic Station, in part to be near Georgia Tech. Worldpay pledged to nearly double its local employee base to about 1,200.

Georgia Tech, Peterson said, was able “to convince (NCR) to move to (Midtown) closer to Tech. This is the same thing that has happened with (Worldpay) and I believe has actually saved jobs for Georgia.”

The email recipients included Georgia Board of Regents member Sachin Shailendra; former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, who recently led the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and Georgia Research Alliance chief Mike Cassidy.

Ultimate corporate citizen?

NCR, founded in 1884 as National Cash Register Co., was considered Dayton’s ultimate corporate citizen before CEO Bill Nuti arrived. In contrast to the company’s prior leaders, Nuti seemed never to be engaged with Dayton. He moved senior executives to New York, where they remained after the 2009 move to Duluth.

Strickland said Ohio had very little opportunity to convince NCR to stay.

“We didn’t have a lot of warning,” he said. “The decision was already made.”

In 2009, then-Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher said Atlanta “needs to be concerned about the lack of loyalty and communication that NCR executives showed Ohio because they may do the same to you in future years.”

Indeed, neither county leaders nor the head of economic development for Gwinnett were aware that NCR had decided to move until after a press release was issued.

Nuti had said in 2009 that he was “committed in a very big way” to Georgia, and to Gwinnett in particular. He said the next year that he hoped for “a successful 125 years here in Duluth” to mirror its prior time in Dayton.

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