Will NS leave Norfolk?

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Norfolk Southern’s corporate headquarters in downtown Norfolk, Va., have been part of the city since 1988.

There has been some speculation that Norfolk Southern will pull up stakes in Norfolk, Va., and relocate its corporate headquarters to Atlanta, Ga., where the railroad’s operations and engineering forces have been historically located.

A recent report in the Virginian-Pilot—citing reports from such media outlets as the Atlanta Business Chronicle and Atlanta Journal-Constitutionsaid that NS, which opened its Norfolk headquarters in 1988, “could bring as many as 1,400 jobs to the Atlanta area, though not all of those would migrate from Norfolk. About 500 NS employees work at the railroad’s McKinnon corporate headquarters office building in downtown Norfolk and the nearby City Center building.”

“Though Norfolk Southern is based in Norfolk, it has roots in Atlanta, too,” noted the Virginian-Pilot. “It was formed in 1982 through the merger of Southern Railway, which was headquartered in Atlanta, and Norfolk & Western. Approximately 1,900 employees work in the Goode operations office building in Midtown.”

“The possible move of the railroad’s headquarters prompted an array of concerns Friday in Hampton Roads (Va.),” the Virginian-Pilot said. “‘Norfolk Southern is a great corporate citizen, and although the majority of their employees are in Atlanta, they have employees all across the nation, and they continue to have a very strong presence in Hampton Roads as a major employer, Fortune 500 company and corporate citizen,’ said Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander. ‘To lose any part of that would be devastating to our community.’

“Alexander said that although he’s in constant contact with the company, they haven’t yet spoken ‘about this particular announcement. We’ll be meeting. I’ve reached out to the governor already.’

“James Koch, an Old Dominion University economist, said a potential relocation would hit Hampton Roads hard. ‘If true, then this would constitute a body blow to the regional economy and especially to Norfolk,’ he noted, likening a Norfolk Southern move to the loss of the region’s banking headquarters several decades ago. He pointed out that Norfolk Southern ‘progressively has been moving senior employees to Atlanta,’ so there has been speculation for some time that a relocation might be in the works.

“‘Well-paid individuals would depart … It would also result in a significant decline in regional charitable contributions, memberships, civic participation, and a noticeable decline in restaurant and entertainment patronage as well,’ he said. ‘The nearest analogy is Caterpillar moving its senior executives to the Chicago suburbs. This severely damaged the Peoria, Ill., economy.’

“He suggested that ‘improved airline and driving connections to and from Hampton Roads would have made a development like this, if it occurs, less probable.’

“Norfolk Southern is considered a philanthropic giant in the region … [It] is one of three Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the region, joining Chesapeake-based Dollar Tree and Newport News-based Huntington Ingalls Industries.”

NS spokesperson Susan Terpay responded to an inquiry from Railway Age as to whether the company plans to relocate, as follows:

“Norfolk Southern is in the process of developing its next long-range plan. That effort is considering many courses of action, including the possibility of consolidating headquarters into a single location. Our long-range plan is complex and will take time to develop, and Norfolk Southern will publicize our plans and decisions when appropriate. Until then, our focus will be on the plan’s development.”

In 2015, NS began consolidating its headquarters from three cities to two, Norfolk and Atlanta, closing its 203,000-square-foot Roanoke, Va., office building.

NS operations headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

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