NCR, Ohio and Bad Press

I’ll admit that I didn’t pay all that much attention to the news a week or so ago that NCR was relocating its corporate headquarters from Dayton to Atlanta. I should have — in fact, all of us living in Ohio should have. And it’s striking how much the NCR move matches what has happened in Akron and elsewhere throughout the state. The point: Well-established companies — those with real jobs, paying wages and salaries that people can actually live on, and contributing to the community through taxes and so many other ways — pack up and head South for a variety of reasons, real, imagined and influenced by the whims of the CEO and the neglect of a generally compliant board of directors.

BFGoodrich made the trek to Charlotte in the late ’90s — after 125 years in Akron. Now after 125 years in Dayton, NCR (remember when it was National Cash Register?) packs its corporate bags for Atlanta. Ho hum. Well, not really.

And the implications for Ohio — and those of us still living here — are outlined well in a Dayton Daily News story written by Jim DeBrose and in an editorial in The Plain Dealer.

Here’s from the Dayton Daily News story “NCR’s blunt words add urgency to concerns” (reprinted in the Akron Beacon Journal with the headine “State loses NCR, gains bad press”):

In explaining NCR’s move to Georgia in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week, NCR chief executive Bill Nuti cited among the Atlanta area’s attractions “the high availability of a skilled work force” and the presence of “a lot of young, educated people.”

Even more stinging was what an anonymous source in the Georgia’s governor’s office told the Atlanta Business Chronicle: “They can’t recruit talent to move to Dayton, Ohio.”

Those comments left many local business and economic development leaders fuming this week, arguing that NCR officials either failed to capitalize on the area’s assets or perhaps didn’t try to recruit here at all. “I didn’t realize for the last few years that they were in such a heavy recruiting phase,” said Deb Norris, vice president of workforce development and corporate services at Sinclair Community College.

But for some community leaders, especially younger professionals, NCR’s blunt talk added new urgency to local efforts to retain more of the young people we educate here in abundance but soon lose to other cities like Atlanta.

NCR’s blunt talk should add new urgency throughout the state among elected officials and those involved in economic growth and development initiatives. And it’s not going to be easy to counter these charges — and others like them. One, they are grounded at least to some degree in fact and reality. Two, they point to widely held perceptions about Ohio that extend from coast to coast.

Here’s from The Plain Dealer editorial:

But now CEO Bill Nuti — a New Yorker who never moved his home to Dayton after he was hired in 2005 and doesn’t plan to reside in Georgia, either — is pulling up stakes. After months of dodging economic development officials from Dayton and the Strickland administration, Nuti has been very public about how much more Georgia had to offer.

His comments raise NCR’s departure from a local pain to a statewide concern.

Nuti has been quoted praising not just the financial incentives that Georgia officials offered NCR to move its headquarters and also to open a production plant, but also the quality of the state’s work force, its training programs and the Atlanta area’s attractiveness to prospective employees. He has lauded the international air connections available from Atlanta and Georgia’s Hope Scholarship program. His bottom line: Ohio just doesn’t measure up.

That slander can’t be allowed to stand. Ohio already has a bad enough reputation among site-selection consultants on both coasts, with its outdated rust belt image.

Nuti, as best I can tell, didn’t have the courage to talk to reporters with the Dayton Daily News or other local news media. That says a lot about him — and also that any efforts to keep NCR in Dayton faced an uphill fight at best. But to the extent that what he says is true — lack of a qualified workforce, inability to keep or attract college grads and young people in general — those are serious matters that need to be addressed. And soon.

Otherwise, “bad press” generated from the comments of a CEO asshat is the least of our problems here in Ohio.

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