Updated: 9:10 p.m. June 02, 2009

NCR move a burst of good news amid recession

Georgia spending $60 million in tax breaks, incentives to attract maker of cash registers, ATMs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, June 01, 2009

A huge ray of economic sunshine burst upon Georgia on Tuesday with the official announcement that NCR, a Fortune 500 company from Ohio that makes ATMs and check-out machines, is bringing its corporate headquarters and 2,100 jobs to Duluth and Columbus.

Recession? This was more like the good ole’ days of the 1990s, when Atlanta pilfered with abandon corporate and manufacturing jobs from higher taxed, less hospitable Northern and Midwestern climes.

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“It’s a great day to be in Georgia,” said Ken Stewart, commissioner of Georgia’s economic development department. “Hard work does pay off.”

So too, apparently, do tens of millions in tax breaks and other inducements from the state, Gwinnett County and governments in the Columbus area.

The state alone promised NCR more than $60 million in tax breaks. But Georgia’s gain comes at already downtrodden Dayton’s expense. The town, dubbed by Forbes.com as one of the country’s top 10 “fastest dying cities,” loses its only Fortune 500 company and the possibility of thousands of new jobs to salve the bruised blue-collar city’s wounds.

Four-hundred miles down Interstate 75, little thought was given Tuesday to Dayton’s woes. In Atlanta, the talk was about adding another global company — the Metro Atlanta region’s 14th Fortune 500 company — to the corporate pile.

Hans Gant, senior vice president with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, likened NCR’s decision to GE Energy’s announcement in the late 1990s that it was bringing a headquarters, well-paying jobs and international prestige to Atlanta.

Since then, though, Atlanta has suffered its share of takeovers, downsizings and bankruptcies. The names read like a Who’s Who of The Atlanta That Was: Scientific-Atlanta, Georgia Pacific, BellSouth — all local titans absorbed by out-of-state companies.

Tuesday restored some of the lost luster, at least in the eyes of local boosters.

“The message NCR sends around the world, in a recession, is that Atlanta is a great place for corporate headquarters, technology and talent,” Gant said. “Hopefully, it will stimulate others to bring their business here.”

NCR promises:

— 1,250 jobs, on top of the 300 already in place in Duluth, which will be home to NCR’s new corporate headquarters. Bill Nuti, NCR’s CEO, said in an interview that marketing, engineering, IT, finance, human resource and business development positions will come to the Satellite Boulevard complex. Average salaries will be “well in excess of $60,000 to $70,000,” Nuti said.

— 870 manufacturing jobs in Columbus, where workers will build ATMs at a new plant. Recruiting is already underway.

— NCR already is on target to employ roughly 900 people in Peachtree City at a customer service and training center.

Based on those plans, more than 3,000 Georgians could one day work for NCR. Nuti added that the company may also build a new headquarters at its existing Satellite Boulevard site, or elsewhere in Gwinnett County.

The company will invest at least $30 million, a figure Nuti said should rise “quite a bit more when the aggregate is done.” New-job payroll will exceed $150 million a year, an amount necessary to trigger the state incentives.

Nuti himself, however, will continue to live in New York.

He downplayed the role tax breaks played in the decision.

“The No. 1 reason we are here is the skilled labor force,” Nuti said. “But our current footprint in Duluth and Peachtree City gives us an advantage. We’ve got experience here in manufacturing since the early 1970s. We’re very excited about what we can do here in Georgia.”

Perdue defended the tax package, which comes at a time when the governor and legislators have cut the state budget by nearly $3 billion.

“These incentives are job tax credits and must be earned by creating jobs,” Perdue said at the Capitol press conference. “Ten, 15 years ago, Georgia didn’t start the incentives game. We were always selling value. We’re still selling value. But the marketplace insists (we offer incentives).”

Gwinnett County officials say they haven’t finalized their property-tax abatements for NCR. Gwinnett is offering “millions of dollars” in incentives, according to Nick Masino, vice president with the Gwinnett Chamber. He added that the county’s amount is “a fraction of the state’s” incentives package.

“This project is huge in the current economy,” said Masino, noting that Gwinnett is now home to three Fortune 500 companies. “We’re leasing up hundreds of thousands of square feet of property. We’re adding 1,200 workers. (And) the housing slowdown in Gwinnett County is OK by us. We’re now focusing on permanent job growth.”

Gwinnett should benefit handsomely from NCR, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center, if the jobs are newly created and not transplanted.

“If they bring people in from outside, that brings more money into the area, but it won’t dent the unemployment rate,” said Dhawan. “If they are hiring locally, that is a big boon.”

Robert Crolic, general manager of Atlanta Classic Cars, a short trip along Satellite Boulevard from NCR’s campus, said the expansion should help car dealers, restaurants, shops and others.

“This will help the real estate market around here,” Crolic said. “There’s a ray of hope.”

— Staff writers Rhonda Cook and Michael E. Kanell contributed to this report.

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