Railroad giant Norfolk Southern formally announced Wednesday its plans to relocate its headquarters from Virginia to Midtown Atlanta.
The negotiations to land Georgia’s 21st Fortune 500 company became public in September when it was learned that not only was Norfolk Southern negotiating to sell its land holdings in the Gulch for developer CIM Group’s planned $5 billion downtown mini-city, but that the sale would help the company finance its move from Norfolk to Atlanta.
Norfolk Southern is in late stage negotiations to buy land at West Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue for a $575 million office campus to be developed by Cousins Properties. The company plans to create or relocate 850 jobs in Atlanta as part of the move. The company has about 2,000 corporate employees at an existing office space near Woodruff Arts Center.
Company Chairman, President and CEO Jim Squires spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the move. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
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A: For a number of reasons. The first because we already have 2,000 employees located there and we have a significant presence there today. But Atlanta has many other benefits as well. Its transportation connections, its leadership in innovation and technology, its big pool of talent, communities and cultural amenities and lots of other things that will make Atlanta a great corporate home for us.
Q:We reported on talks for a major downtown project by CIM Group for some time. Can you describe how all this came together? This seems to have started as a real estate transaction and morphed into a headquarters relocation.
A: We began seriously discussing headquarters relocation earlier this year and the reason for the relocation is the things that I went through, the fundamentals that make Atlanta an attractive place to locate a headquarters. The immediate catalyst for the relocation was the property we own in the Gulch. It’s property the company has owned for many, many years and partnering with CIM we had an opportunity that has just recently come to fruition to sell the property. And we said, ‘When we do, if we do, we will take the money and reinvest it in the city of Atlanta in a new headquarters building.’
Q:Could you outline the timing?
A: An initial wave of employees will move to Atlanta into temporary office space in our current building or in nearby offices next year, summer of 2019. That will be about 100 people. Then, an additional 400 people we expect to relocate from Norfolk in 2021 when our new headquarters building is complete. The remaining jobs that will be added will be brought in from time to time over that period, again initially into our existing office building and later on into the new headquarters building.
Q: Was the decision between staying in Norfolk or moving to Atlanta? Were other cities involved?
A: There were not. From the beginning we were clear that we would make the headquarters move to Atlanta if all the conditions were fulfilled. … Atlanta has long made sense for us and we’ve been very happy corporate citizens here in Norfolk as well. It really was a choice between being in Norfolk and moving to Atlanta if everything came together as it now has.
Q: What will be your message to your headquarters employees today?
A: First thing I’m going to do is I’m going to thank them for all of their contributions to our company’s success. … We’ll talk about the business rationale for the move, which is alignment and teamwork, our belief that we will be more effective as a management team when we are together in one place. We’ll talk about our appreciation for Georgia’s and Atlanta’s support in making this move possible, and also our gratitude to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the region of Hampton Roads and the city of Norfolk for having hosted us for all these years.
Q: The Gulch area for years has been this place that’s been both a vexing problem and a tantalizing opportunity for leaders of Atlanta. It’s been envisioned in the past as a multimodal transit terminal, including commuter rail. You operate tracks through the Gulch. Do you ever see commuter rail going through the Gulch?
A: I don’t know. A lot of things would have to fall into place for that to be possible. We obviously have an active freight rail operation in that area, that is our business, so that is obviously our primary interest and our focus.