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March 29, 2019

Economic Development Leadership Council Talks Relocation and Talent Acquisition with Norfolk Southern

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Metro Atlanta is growing at an exponential rate. The region’s increasing population and position at the center of the world’s most important markets make it a prime location for next-generation talent eager to enter the workforce. The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Economic Development Council took up the subject during a recent sit-down conversation with Norfolk Southern – one of the nation’s premier transportation companies.

The Economic Development Leadership Council, led by John O’Neill, president, Southeast and Southcentral region, Cushman and Wakefield, Inc., hosted a fireside chat with Fred Ehlers, vice president of information technology and CIO, Norfolk Southern Corporation, about the company’s recent relocation and expansion of its corporate headquarters to midtown Atlanta.

Local and national press have covered Norfolk Southern’s relocation and expansion since the company made an official announcement in 2018.  

“The freight business is looking good. We’re looking at a five percent compound annual growth rate,” Ehlers said.

A bigger challenge for Norfolk Southern, Ehlers remarked, has been in coordinating the 28,000 employees spread across three major cities (Norfolk and Roanoke, Virginia and Atlanta) and maintaining strong communication with clients.

“This move [to Atlanta] has brought Norfolk Southern much more attention than it has had in the past,” Ehlers said. “Our earliest appearance in Atlanta was in the 1840s, and we still encounter people who don’t know what Norfolk Southern is or what it does.”

Norfolk Southern has tried to relocate and consolidate its corporate headquarters several times over the past 36 years with discussions dating as far back as 1982 – when Roanoke-based Norfolk & Western and Washington, D.C.-based Southern Railway merged – to target Atlanta as a potential location. In 2005, the corporation noticed that a large portion of its talent was clustered in a circle around Midtown.

Last year, Norfolk Southern decided to relocate its remaining talent to a brand new, one million sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility in the heart of midtown Atlanta – which is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2021. The Gulch, previously owned by Norfolk Southern and recently acquired by developer CIM Group, will catalyze downtown Atlanta with its planned redevelopment.

“We love Midtown,” Ehlers said. “From a company’s perspective, it’s a great place to be. The MARTA stops are convenient and a lot of our talent, especially the younger employees, are moving there. The adjacency to Georgia Tech and Tech Square is valuable when we are actively recruiting new talent.”

O’Neill followed the fireside chat with a quick question and answer session. Ehlers spoke about using technology to shape the future of the company, touching on train dispatch systems and using programming to optimize efficiency.

“Not all of our customers are embracing the newer technology,” Ehlers said. “We’re working on rolling out web portals and business-to-business programs to make the technology more accessible on a consumer level.”

For more information on the Economic Development Leadership Council, reach out to Josh Stephens.

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