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NCR Opens Door for High-Tech Manufacturing Hub

Kathi Vieser Bianco (Oct/Nov 09)
It stands to reason that a city named for a famed explorer would be a logical hub for innovation. And while it is safe to assume that the technology company NCR did not include that requirement in its criteria for choosing a location to manufacture ATMs, its selection of Columbus, Georgia, suggests a connection to that type of pioneering mindset.

NCR, which manufactures and services products for the financial and retail sectors, announced in June that it would locate the North American manufacturing operations for its SelfServ ATM product in Columbus, creating 873 new jobs in engineering, supply chain management, manufacturing management, quality assurance, and direct labor. "Columbus, Georgia, offered us a location with many positive attributes," says Peter Tulupman, an NCR spokesperson, "including a talented work force, top manufacturing programs at the local universities, and close proximity to major transportation hubs such as Hartsfield-Jackson Airport." The facility will produce all the SelfServ machines used in the North American market, returning manufacturing to the United States from overseas.

Located on the Georgia-Alabama border approximately 100 miles south of Atlanta, Columbus is situated on the Chattahoochee River and, as Georgia's third-largest city, is home to approximately 250,000 people, according to U.S. Census figures. Those figures say that nearly 80 percent of the area's work force has a high-school education or higher, and economic development officials in Columbus say it includes more than 11,000 underemployed workers. The area includes the U.S. Army's Fort Benning, where officials say more than 13,000 military spouses and at least 2,000 discharged military personnel annually are also part of the work force.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported at the time of the announcement that NCR would move into a 340,000-square-foot facility, which would be purchased by the local development authority and be leased back to NCR; the company planned to invest approximately $4.75 million for renovations. Employee hiring was underway within days of the announcement, and an NCR senior vice president said it would be extremely important for the company to begin operations at the site by the end of this year.
Columbus area officials aggressively pursued the NCR plant, guaranteeing the company a reported $7.5 million in incentives. Becca Hardin, executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says the manufacturing operation will be a key part of high-tech manufacturing cluster the area is targeting. "We are optimistic that we can recruit suppliers to NCR that will need to be close to the U.S manufacturing operations," she says, pointing out that there is already a high-tech financial transaction processing cluster in the area that includes financial services company Synovus and credit card processor TSYS. The chamber says there are more than 1,300 shovel-ready acres of property available, along with a large inventory of available buildings.

One of the key elements of the incentives package was an application by the city for $5.5 million in federal stimulus money. That request was denied by the U.S. Department of  Commerce in August. According to Hardin, the denial was due to technical issues related to the original submission of the application. City officials say they will make up the difference from the city coffers and it will not affect the deal with NCR.

NCR says employee training began at the Columbus plant during the summer, with management that includes several Six Sigma green and black belts. The company's original timetable is still in place and the plant will be manufacturing every SelfServ brand ATM in North America by the end of this year.

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