GOP blames Strickland for NCR loss

But insiders say NCR left for an array of reasonsCampaign dismisses criticism as ‘wildly false’

On the seventh anniversary of NCR Corp.’s announcement that it was leaving Dayton for Georgia, the Ohio Republican Party laid the blame for NCR’s loss at the feet of Ted Strickland, a Democrat who was governor in 2009 and who today is Sen. Rob Portman’s opponent in the November election.

NCR’s exit cost Dayton about 1,250 well-paying jobs — with $2.5 million in city income tax revenue — and its last Fortune 500 company.

“Gov. Ted Strickland didn’t care,” Ohio Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said in a press conference in the shadow of the Carillon Thursday.

“He didn’t do anything to try to save those jobs, to try to replenish those jobs when they left,” Antani said. “And that is not leadership.”

Antani and Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, repeated the story of Strickland and NCR CEO Bill Nuti — a recollection attributed to Nuti himself and reported in the New York Times, among other places — sitting down at a conference dinner together in early 2009. According to Nuti’s account, Strickland did not introduce himself or appear to know who Nuti was.

“Ted Strickland didn’t even know who he was sitting with when he sat (with Nuti) in New York at a renewable energy conference,” Borges said.

A spokesman for Strickland in 2010 told the New York Times that the then-governor “would have been happy to talk to Mr. Nuti about NCR’s plans if he had been approached.”

The campaign for Strickland on Thursday pointed to 2009 news reports that showed NCR did not share its plans to move with Ohio lawmakers and politicians at all levels of government, local, state and federal.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Strickland campaign, dismissed GOP criticisms as “wildly false.”

He said the claims “show just how far Sen. Portman’s backers will go to try and distract from Portman’s own decades-long record of voting for unfair trade deals that have outsourced hundreds of thousands of Ohio jobs to places like China.

“The record is very clear: this company (NCR) refused to notify leaders at any level they were leaving and wouldn’t consider an incentive offer from the administration to stay in Dayton,” he added. “But after they left, Ted worked with local community leaders to successfully bring new jobs and economic investment to Dayton, including General Electric and the (Ohio) Aerospace Development Hub.”

Some observers say the reality of NCR’s move was complex, and blame cannot be directed at any one person. Strickland himself said in recent years that NCR didn’t give him or others a chance to try to keep the company in Dayton.

“We didn’t have a lot of warning,” Strickland told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2015. “The decision was already made.”

In 2008 and well before, a number of signals worried Dayton leaders.

Jackie Thode, a former general manager in the Gasper Division of NCR, was part of a group of NCR employees exploring a possible expansion of the NCR’s 1700 S. Patterson Blvd. headquarters when Nuti was brought on as CEO in 2005.

Now retired, Thode said Thursday that the group’s work was halted about 18 months after Nuti arrived.

“We all wondered why,” Thode said. “But about that time they started to reduce staff everywhere and most of us thought that was why.”

Other signals worried Dayton. The company’s board quietly put aside an early requirement that Nuti move from New York City to Dayton. Public officials, such as then-state Sen. John Husted, said they were frustrated in attempts to meet Nuti face-to-face.

In October 2008, the state of Georgia announced that NCR would establish a global “center of excellence” in that state, moving parts of NCR’s worldwide customer service operations and creating 916 new jobs over the next two years.

In January 2009, a then-spokesman for NCR told the Dayton Daily News that “Dayton is our headquarters.”

“You don’t make that decision lightly,” the spokesman said then. “This company has said Dayton is our headquarters. Resources are precious. People are important.”

But even then, NCR, with about 22,000 employees worldwide, had more employees in Georgia than in Dayton. And 18 months later, the company had left the city altogether.

Former Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in 2010 called NCR’s actions “shamefully irresponsible.” Just before NCR’s June 2, 2009 announcement, Strickland’s office sent Nuti a letter, offering NCR $31.1 million of incentives to keep the company anchored in Dayton.

Nuti himself said flights to and from Dayton International Airport required multiple stops at other airports, making travel tricky for customers and employees. He said recruiting top talent to Dayton was difficult. He wanted to be closer to NCR customers in Atlanta, as well.

David Gasper — an NCR veteran and Dayton-area entrepreneur who sold a business to NCR in 1999 — was not with the company in 2009. But he saw the same signs as others, and he spoke regularly with people within the company who felt that NCR leadership clearly wanted to leave.

“In my mind, there was no effort whatsoever (by NCR) to stay in Dayton and preserve the legacy of a company founded by (John) Patterson,” Gasper said Thursday.