Norfolk Southern Corporation will move its headquarters from Virginia to Midtown Atlanta. But Wednesday’s announcement by Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms didn’t come as a surprise.
Most economic development deals are kept secret. Not this one though, said Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson at the announcement.
“This has to be the worst-kept secret in the history of economic development,” Wilson said.
That’s because Norfolk Southern said the relocation could only happen if it could sell a piece of land in downtown Atlanta — at the Gulch.
And that sale required a massive tax incentive package approved by the City Council. So the whole thing became public months ago and attracted protests. It also faced push back from the Atlanta Public School system, that wasn’t willing to forgo extra tax revenue for the deal. The mayor ended up reworking the deal to exclude the school system.
On her fourth attempt to bring it up for a vote, the Mayor got the deal narrowly passed.
Bottoms alluded to the long fight she had to get it through City Council.
“Getting to this point was like watching the sausage get made,” she said. “But hey it sure does taste good.”
She acknowledged the deal became a symbolic touchpoint for Atlantans, who testified for hours of public comment against the package.
“I think this was an opportunity for the public obviously to voice their concerns and frustrations about feeling left behind with economic development,” she said.
“But also an opportunity for some to just continue to grind personal axes as it related to last year’s campaign,” she added.
Former mayoral candidate and State Senator Vincent Fort led protests against the deal.
“But whatever the reason, we’re on the other side of it,” she said.
“We are very happy that this occasion has finally come to our state,” Deal said. “It was somewhat of a complicated path that it took. But that’s okay, we’re accustomed to those kinds of things.”
“There were a couple of times that I was worried, but I had a lot of faith in City Council and the Mayor in coming to an agreement on the development of the Gulch,” Wilson said. “The taxes that come off that [new] payroll will help the City address a lot of the issues that came up in that process.”
Norfolk Southern said the move will bring 850 new jobs through a $575 million investment. The company already employs about 4,700 people in Georgia.
Deal said it’s the 17th Fortune 500 company to be headquartered in Georgia.