‘Double-dipping’ companies exploit soft market, expert says

NCR explores 2nd HQ move in five years

Bill Nuti, NCR Corp. chief executive, this week told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the company “loves” being in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

If that assurance sounds familiar to Dayton residents, there’s a reason. In January 2009 — less than six months before NCR announced that it was leaving its home of 128 years for Georgia — an NCR spokesman told the Dayton Daily News that “Dayton is our headquarters.”

“You don’t make that decision lightly,” Alan Ulman, then an NCR spokesman, said at that time. “This company has said Dayton is our headquarters. Resources are precious. People are important.”

Some 18 months later, the retail and financial services company had mostly left Dayton, moving or laying off some 1,200 local employees, leaving behind a few technicians and support staff.

Nearly $60 million in Georgia incentives lured the company. Left behind was lingering resentment and no small measure of confusion.

Now, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has uncovered documents showing that NCR leaders are considering its second headquarters move in five years. The documents show that NCR leaders considered asking Georgia Tech’s foundation to spend up to $30 million to buy land for a new corporate campus, AJC reported.

“These ‘double dip’ episodes are not unusual, and (corporate) headquarters are trophies that make it easier for companies to play such games,” said Greg LeRoy, executive of Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C.-based “resource center” that pushes for government accountability in economic development.

LeRoy said “elite companies” that threaten to move or offer to create a large number of jobs are exploiting a soft development market and are reaping “megadeals” that his organization contends cost taxpayers an average of $456,000 per job.

The newspaper also uncovered a recent email from an NCR executive acknowledging that the company was exploring “a plethora of options and locations” for another move.

“If they wanted to be near a college campus, they should have stayed in Dayton,” said Phil Parker, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. The University of Dayton — which bought the company’s former Patterson Boulevard headquarters in December 2009 — had been and would continue to be a great partner, he said.

Nuti — who remains based in New York even after moving NCR to Georgia — said he wanted to “reinvent” NCR, moving the company closer to customers, to technology-focused universities and to what he saw as an employee talent pool.

Local officials, including then-State Sen. Jon Husted and then-Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, countered that NCR never gave Ohio or Dayton a chance to compete for NCR’s future. They say he didn’t return phone calls or meet with them face-to-face.

Asked for comment this week, an NCR spokesman said in an email, “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on rumors or speculation.”

Fishing for incentives for a second headquarters move in five years is noteworthy, Parker said.

“Now they’re back at it, asking for incentives again,” Parker said. “If I were the good people of Gwinnett County, I would say, ‘Hey, come on, this (the last move) was only five years ago.’”

Greg Lawson, policy analyst for the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute, said seeking incentives is natural for companies because governments are all too willing to award them.

“Under the present set of circumstances, it’s smart corporate behavior because if you can get it (incentives), why wouldn’t you?” Lawson said.

“Having said that, it’s also mercenary,” Lawson added. “And it’s not necessarily good governance.”

Lawson argues that governments should keep overall tax rates low to attract business, with few “carve-outs” for particular companies and no attempts to “pick winners and losers” among a community’s businesses.

The problem with incentives is that the practice tends to become widespread, multiplying corporate attempts at winning new incentives, narrowing a community’s tax base and lessening revenue for schools and public services, Lawson said.

“As a philosophical matter, we don’t think it’s good (for communities) over time,” Lawson said.

Parker agreed that it’s not always “in the best interest of community governments to play that game.”

Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, wants to focus on the present and the future.

“To me, there’s nothing we can do about that anymore,” Hoagland said of NCR. “In my opinion, I think the region, we’ve moved on, and we’ve moved on in an unbelievable way.”

He recalled how UD purchased the NCR property, moving the headquarters of its Research Institute to what had become the university’s Old River campus and bringing the executive team of health care products firm Midmark from Darke County to NCR’s former world headquarters. GE Aviation also built its EPISCenter — a site devoted to research of aviation electrical power — on former NCR property off River Park Drive.

GE Aviation invested at least $50 million into its new center and has some 2,600 Dayton-area employees overall, at several locations. In time, the center is expected to employ some 150 to 200 researchers.

“This community has been resilient, and it continues to be resilient,” Hoagland said.

But with a laugh, he quipped: “If NCR is looking, we’d be more than willing to find them some more space.”

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