Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

NCR eyes new incentives for Midtown move

Financial technology giant 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 that would house as many as 4,000 employees, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The idea was floated in February as NCR explored moving its headquarters from Gwinnett County to Midtown, in part to be close to the Tech campus, the documents show.

They offer a glimpse into high-stakes, secret negotiations between the state and one of its most prominent employers.

A deal has not been reached, and the documents also suggest Tech officials considered the land-buying proposal too expensive. It’s unclear whether NCR ever made it a formal request.

Moreover, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told an AJC reporter Wednesday that NCR is looking at several possible locations. That suggests NCR could pit communities in a bidding war.

In a statement, NCR said, “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on rumors or speculation.” State officials also did not comment.

The AJC first reported last month that the maker of ATMs and mobile transactions technologies was working with state, Atlanta and Georgia Tech officials to locate a site for a corporate campus near the state’s top technology university, and could add 1,000 jobs as part of the process.

A move would be a blow to Gwinnett, where NCR moved its headquarters from Ohio in 2009 and now employs many of its 4,600 Georgia staffers. The firm also has manufacturing sites in Peachtree City and Columbus and a Midtown research office to woo techies.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash was in a commission meeting and not available to comment.

The state provided more than $60 million in tax breaks for NCR when it moved to Georgia. Gwinnett chipped in lucrative incentives, too.

The details of NCR’s talks about a Midtown move were revealed in a series of emails marked “confidential” and obtained through an Open Records Act request.

The records show that NCR chief executive Bill Nuti met with Gov. Nathan Deal, Reed and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson in early October to discuss the “creation of a technology center in Atlanta.”

In a statement Wednesday, Peterson did not specifically address NCR, but said companies are attracted to Tech and its quality graduates and the technologies they produce.

A Feb. 14 email from Georgia Tech’s real estate chief John Majeroni indicates NCR wants a site adjacent to the Centergy Building on Georgia Tech’s Technology Square. Centergy is home to Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, an accelerator for high-tech firms, and the state Department of Economic Development.

NCR and other high-powered companies including AT&T and Panasonic have positioned research centers at or near Tech in recent years to tap into new technologies and talent taking shape at the university. Yet firms have rarely received financial gifts from the school to do so.

“I have never heard of a University giving a gift to a company to locate close by,” Peterson said in one email.

A Sept. 30 email from Peterson to an administrator leading up to the October meeting described “quiet and confidential” negotiations that he said would bring as many as 4,000 employees.

In a Feb. 13 note, Georgia Tech Foundation President Al Trujillo reminded Peterson in a Feb. 13 note that “NCR was a tough negotiator when they moved down from Ohio.”

In an email the same day, Majeroni said NCR was “thinking of asking” the Georgia Tech Foundation, the school’s nonprofit fundraising arm, to purchase the land for its new campus for between $25 million to $30 million and gift it to the company. Majeroni said in the note that he believed a request so large had little chance of passing.

“We are the nonprofit and are usually the ones making such requests,” he wrote, punctuating the sentence with a smile emoticon. He suggested the school could consider a smaller gift of $5 million to give Georgia Tech the right to participate in another phase.

“I didn’t think it was consistent with our mission and history to take contributions alumni had made to GT and use it to make the company’s project cheaper, so any funds had to benefit both the project and GT directly,” Majeroni said in the email.

Other emails suggest Tech officials have discussed internally NCR’s plans as recently as March.

Andrea Ledford, NCR’s chief human resources officer and a participant in the October meeting, on Tuesday credited the company’s move to Georgia as being instrumental to the NCR’s transformation into a technology powerhouse.

NCR, founded as the National Cash Register Co., was bleeding cash many years ago and was in danger of becoming “the next Kodak,” Ledford said, speaking to a panel of state educators and economic gurus. She said NCR moved beyond its roots in cash tending hardware to become a player in mobile technologies and software-based systems. The company moved to Georgia to attract talent it couldn’t retain in Ohio.

Ledford, whose appearance was not related to the possible Midtown move, said the company needs software developers, and is doing battle with the likes of Google and Facebook for talent. NCR wants to partner with the state, she said, to find “innovative” ideas to develop more skilled workers and keep Georgia-educated talent at home.

“There’s a lot of great talent in the state of Georgia,” she said. “We know that, but it is very limited.”

For NCR, a move to Tech would have many benefits, including a direct line to the engineering and programming talent that graduate each year.

But a potential new round of incentives to the company brought criticism from Dayton, NCR’s former hometown, before it moved to Georgia.

“What concerns me is that they went down there and the good people of Georgia and Gwinnett County put a lot of money into that deal to attract them here,” said Phil Parker, the president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “And now all of the sudden the deal isn’t good enough and they’re back to the well again. That really bothers me.”

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Staff writers Matt Kempner, Molly Bloom and Katie Leslie contributed to this article.