CR just opened a new ATM manufacturing plant in town as part of its big move to Georgia. Homegrown firm AFLAC continues to earn accolades as an employer of choice while investing in new data center capability. Kia just rolled out its first vehicle at its 1,200-worker (soon to be 2,400) plant in nearby West Point, a facility that has attracted an extended family's worth of suppliers to the bi-state region. And BRAC 2005-related growth at Fort Benning is speeding toward its goals, as the base becomes the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence and prepares to add up to 15,000 on- and off-post jobs as it invests $3.5 billion.
Hello, Columbus. In October, this 161st-largest MSA in the United States was among only four in Georgia rated "in recovery" by MSNBC's "Adversity Index," which looks at employment, industrial production, housing starts and home prices. The others were Augusta-Richmond County, Savannah and Warner Robins. All four are aided economically by a major U.S. military presence, including a $340-million National Security Agency intelligence-gathering complex being built at Fort Gordon near Augusta that is expected to be home to at least 3,000 personnel by 2012. Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins is Georgia's largest industrial employer with approximately 27,000 employees and a total economic impact of more than $4.2 billion.
But Ft. Benning might soon vie for that title. And Columbus is grabbing honors of its own. Even as Cessna closes its local plant, Columbus is seeing investments from battery maker Exide Technologies (200 jobs), military food distributor Nash-Finch Co. and the aptly named Prosperity America (300 call center jobs). The outlook is such that the MSA ranked No. 1 among the nation's 201 largest MSAs in the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for the first quarter of 2010, released in December.
A full 25 percent of companies in Columbus plan to hire workers during the quarter, with only 7 percent planning a work force decrease, for a net increase of 18 percent, outdistancing second-place San Antonio at 12 percent. The next highest ranked Georgia communities are Augusta (No. 42, with a net 4-percent increase) and Macon (No. 94 with a 1-percent increase), though north Georgia sneaks in at No. 58 by virtue of its association with the Chattanooga metro area, which looks for a net 3-percent increase.
The dramatic growth brings with it a pressing demand for new schools, which will be supported by a special-purpose local-option sales tax passed in 2008.
Michael Gaymon, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says regional partnership with true equality at the table has been key to the area's success, which has been helped by the Chamber's formation of the bi-state Valley Partnership more than a decade ago. Such a partnership requires careful stepping politically, but both states benefit enormously in the long run. A large federal land planning grant has further enabled the community to put in place a regional growth management plan that encompasses 10 counties (three in Alabama) and 13 elements, such as housing and infrastructure.
'Next in Class' Performance
One of those companies hiring in Columbus is NCR Corp., which in 2009 also moved its corporate headquarters to Georgia as well as completing other operational moves to facilities in Peachtree City (near Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport) and Duluth, in Gwinnett County in the northeast area of the Atlanta metro.
Peter Dorsman, senior vice president of global operations for NCR Corp., is responsible for the company's global manufacturing, sourcing, distribution logistics, quality and sales order management. He says the Columbus plant, located in Corporate Ridge Business Park, is the culmination of a discussion that began in January 2009 about rethinking NCR's ATM manufacturing strategy, centered around delivering innovative products to the market faster via more collaborative innovation. As the discussion expanded from focusing on suppliers and customers to include government agencies and universities, "all of a sudden strategy became very real," he says. "That led us to look at where we might locate to execute that collaboration strategy."
As part of bringing manufacturing back to the United States, the company looked at seven states, all in the South, which surprised Dorsman at first. But he had already been impressed by the university system in Georgia from his work on the ongoing customer-service and innovation projects in Peachtree City and Duluth. In addition to engineering and innovation capability, he cites a robust supply chain program, including at Clayton State University, just southeast of Atlanta in Morrow. Other partners included the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development and the state's QuickStart training program, the Greater Columbus Chamber and Georgia Power, which is helping the plant, located in a former Panasonic battery-making facility, achieve LEED certification.
"I think we far surpassed what we thought was possible," says Dorsman, calling the new complex a "next-in-class" facility, which he says goes beyond the parity suggested by best in class. He then offers an example of next-in-class economic development service from QuickStart.
"We made the decision to locate there essentially on a Friday afternoon, around May 15th or so," he relates. "The QuickStart folks contacted me and said they were anxious to get started. We needed assistance in screening, testing and training. I said, 'The first thing I'd like you to do is fly over to Budapest, Hungary, and film how we manufacture ATMs. That would not only be helpful to your organization, but could be an interesting part of the training.' The individual said, "When would you like us to be there?' I said, 'How about Monday?' That Monday, they had a crew headed off to Budapest."
Make Yourself at Home
During a tour of the young plant, Don Naciuk, director of operations, who relocated from Waterloo, Ontario, continues the story, as he walks through his "90-day challenge." "As we were doing all the construction, we didn't have our general occupancy license yet, so you can't bring in people to interview and train. So the Georgia Department of Labor opened up their doors, held a job fair, and allowed us to funnel all applications and use their facilities to do all the interviewing. It was a tremendous challenge, and they were a huge help."
QuickStart stepped in next, opening up its facility five minutes from the plant for pre-employment screening and training. "Once people were hired, we still didn't have a facility to train in, so we sent equipment up to the QuickStart facility and built a mini-replication of the production line," says Naciuk. "We sent people from NCR around the world to QuickStart. Before new employees walked in on day one, they'd gone through four weeks of extensive training. That was a big, big benefit."
Now the plant is ramping up with a production line and a test line, with employment approaching 160 of an eventual 850 to 900 jobs, and construction work continuing in other portions of the two-building, 350,000-sq.-ft. (32,515-sq.-m.) complex. NCR and QuickStart are working on tool-based courses around continuous improvement, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma: "I'm very impressed with what they were able to do," says Dorsman. "I'm not sure we even understood when we made the original commitment."
Another early example of support happened in November when NCR held a global supplier conference, and for the first time located it in a university environment, on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Dorsman says the 300 attendees who showed up were far more then he envisioned, and lauded the collaborative setting of Georgia Tech's campus.
One unique aspect of the ATM project ("Project Flyer") was its overlap with the timing and implementation of the big headquarters move from Dayton, Ohio ("Project Go") as well as the ongoing expansion of NCR's commitments in Duluth and Peachtree City, all taking place against the backdrop of some political fallout in Ohio, NCR's home for 125 years.
"Discussions were going on with multiple states," says Dorsman, and nothing precluded the company from locating the plant in one and the HQ in another. "The analysis for the headquarters included all 48 states, and for the plant it was 15 states," he says. "It just happened that both landed in Georgia, but it was two separate processes," he says, citing a pro-business and right-to-work environment. "We told the governor that often when people are courting you, commitments are made and things don't work out as committed, but I can tell you with 100-percent certainty they've done far more than originally discussed."
Mike Gaymon in Columbus affirms that his organization didn't know about the headquarters search, which was being fielded by the state. Meanwhile, it appeared early on that some federal stimulus funds might be available for the refurbishment of the Panasonic facility. A political firestorm ensued, stoked by Ohio legislators. But Columbus had prepared for this eventuality, with the city promising to make good on the purchase and leaseback of the building to NCR: "The city said if no other funds come in, we stand good for it," says Gaymon, though state funds helped out later. "That's a big commitment."
Dorsman said he used the 90-day ramp-up of the Columbus project as a development opportunity, inviting high-potential talent from around the world to work on making it a success. He says the high energy of that 20-person team was replicated in the 40-person team implementing the Duluth headquarters project. He says "quite a few" people are relocating from Ohio to the new headquarters, but not all of them are, and the gap will be filled by talent in Atlanta.
Another ATM manufacturing complex opened in Manaus, Brazil, in November, approximately two weeks after the Columbus grand opening. What's next?
"I'm hoping we take a breather," he quips, looking back at a rather full two-year period of site selection. "Suffice to say that we do business in 130 countries, so as our business continues to grow, our needs from a facilities standpoint will be ever-changing."