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From Site Selection magazine, May 2015

The Long View

Taking stock of Georgia’s assets, Mercedes moves south.

The Mercedes Benz S63 AMG Coupe
Photo courtesy of MBUSA


ayor Rusty Paul of Sandy Springs, Ga., has a message for companies looking to relocate. “If Atlanta is still the hub of Southeastern commerce, then Sandy Springs is rapidly becoming the center of commerce in the metro region,” he says. UPS, Airwatch, Cox Communications and Newell Rubbermaid are just a sampling of global companies calling Sandy Springs home, and they’re being joined by even more heavy hitters.

In December 2014, Veritiv announced it would relocate its corporate leadership and executive support functions from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Sandy Springs. And less than a month later Mercedes Benz USA (MBUSA) ended speculation by announcing the company’s headquarters would move from New Jersey to Sandy Springs, a decision born from economics and logistics.

“It became apparent that to achieve the sustained, profitable growth and efficiencies we require for the decades ahead, our headquarters would have to be located elsewhere,” said Stephen Cannon, president and CEO of MBUSA. He cited Georgia’s excellent business climate, infrastructure and workforce as three key elements in the decision and praised Sandy Springs’ neighborhoods and proximity to transit.

A Long-Term Attitude

City leaders found out they were in the running for the project a couple months before the public announcement. “For the bulk of that time, at the city level, we didn’t know who they were,” Paul says. “Somebody told me, ‘When you find out who they are, you’re going to want samples.’ I was thinking it was a consumer products company. It was a month before the final announcement that we found out it was Mercedes.”

Paul was impressed by the long-term attitude MBUSA took in selecting Georgia and Sandy Springs. “They were truly interested in finding a location for the next 50 years, looking for things that would help them be sustainable over a long period,” he says. “Steve Cannon was looking at where the company needed to be to lower their costs, both from a tax point of view as well as an operational point of view. Part of cutting costs also involved travel. Going from N.J. to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, [where Mercedes has a manufacturing facility] or to Brunswick, Ga., where they do a lot of shipping, is costly. From here you can be in Tuscaloosa in about 2.5 hours by car and Brunswick in about five hours. Those were the things they were focused on, longer-term outcomes.”

“We’ve gotten our infrastructure assets ready; we have to get our services and people ready too.”
— Jannine Miller, director, Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics

The $75-million MBUSA headquarters campus will be built on a 12-acre (4.8-hectare) parcel, part of a larger city-owned 70-acre (28-hectare) property known as Glenridge Hall. The company intends to build a 250,000-sq.-ft. (23,225-sq.-m.) office building with room for growth. The project expects to create hundreds of permanent jobs.

The influx of headquarters into the city has made a significant financial impact. The city paid close to $1 million an acre when they bought the property where MBUSA will locate. “The going rate for that same property now is $2 million and $2.5 million an acre,” says Paul. “We actually had an offer of $4 million for one acre. It’s become a boom area for us.”

Logistics and Workforce: A Winning Combo

Georgia’s excellent logistics infrastructure is one of the primary drivers in the state’s economic growth. In her new role as director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, transportation veteran Jannine Miller is looking to make connections, not just between the industry and customers, but between the resources of the state and industry. As with almost every other sector, keeping the talent pipeline filled and work-ready is a pressing challenge.

Crowdsourcing Shipping Solutions

A new mobile app takes the place of an index card on a bulletin board.

Let’s say you need to get a painting from Savannah, Ga., to El Paso, Texas, and you don’t want to pay top dollar to ship it. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to find someone already planning to drive from Savannah to El Paso who could take the painting along with them? Now it’s possible with Roadie, a mobile app that launched in January with $10 million in Series-A funding. The app is a crowd-sourced shipping network, created by leveraging empty space in passenger vehicles already on the road. In a nutshell, senders post specifics about items they want to send and the “Roadies,” as the drivers are called, respond based on availability and location. Fees range from $8 to $150 based on a number of factors including mileage and urgency of delivery.

“There’s an invisible grid under all our feet made up of the patterns and places we go every day, driving to work, on vacation and just running errands,” said Marc Gorlin, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Roadie. “We designed Roadie to tap into the excess capacity moving along that grid. There is low cost for the sender, extra cash for the driver and the potential to make the world a better, greener, friendlier place.”

One of Roadie’s key investors is Atlanta-based shipping giant UPS, which invested in the startup via the company’s Strategic Enterprise Fund (SEF). “We believe that mobile and the sharing economy are active spaces, generating many creative and intriguing business models, like Roadie,” said Rimas Kapeskas, managing director of the UPS SEF. “Our SEF is all about staying connected to evolving business models and new technologies.”

Roadie also created a strategic partnership with Waffle House restaurants giving drivers and senders a place to meet, and share a cup of coffee. “For the last 60 years, Waffle House has been a place for travelers and a preferred meeting place for our customers,” said Walt Ehmer, CEO of Waffle House. “Roadie combines the two, making it easy for senders and drivers who love waffles to meet at the nearest Waffle House. And who doesn’t love waffles?”

“We’ve gotten our infrastructure assets ready; we have to get our services and people ready too,” she says. “That’s where the work really happens — those hands on the boxes, hands on the wheel, helping the products get to their destination, on time and intact. Companies are telling us, ‘I need people, I need people, I need people, but they can’t be so far behind the curve that I can’t use them when they get here.’ ”

In addition to Georgia’s highly acclaimed QuickStart program, Miller highlights several workforce development and internship programs, such as the Maritime Logistics Education Taskforce (MLET), which exposes high school students to careers in maritime logistics. A core MLET program is called Follow the Container, which allows students to track a shipping container at the Port of Savannah every step of the process from fill to stocking the customer’s shelf. Georgia Tech’s Veterans Education Training and Transition (VET2) is a new four-week program offered free of charge at the university’s Savannah campus to veterans transitioning to the workforce.

An issue of particular importance in Georgia is the shortage of commercial truck drivers. According to information in Gov. Nathan Deal’s December 2014 High Demand Career Initiative report, the American Trucking Association predicts the trucking industry will need to find 96,000 new drivers annually to keep up with demand. Miller says Georgia Tech Professional Education offers online certificates in Supply Chain Fundamentals that target 16-to-20-year-olds and can assist in filling that need.

“One of the problems in the trucking industry is that you can’t get a commercial driver’s license [CDL] until you’re 21. By then, young people have already chosen other career paths,” she says. “These online programs can be a pipeline for people who are learning the industry, learning how the yards work, who can then go get a CDL and stay in the field and grow.”

The trucking industry is changing in ways that will likely suit the millennial workforce.

“Long distance is going to move more to rail, whether it has to or wants to,” says Miller. “The trucking radius is going to be tighter, so drivers are going to be out and back either each night or every other night. It could be a good attractor for the trucking industry.”

Marc Gorlin, CEO of Roadie, lends a hand at Waffle House. All 1,750 Waffle House Restaurants serve as official Roadhouse Meeting Locations for those using the neighbor-to-neighbor shipping app.
Photo courtesy of Roadie

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