Mercedes-Benz USA’s new headquarters officially opened March 15 in a ceremony where Gov. Nathan Deal marveled at the glass design and the mayors of Atlanta and Sandy Springs tooled around on a three-wheeled 1886 proto-car.
“It’s pretty difficult to top the seal of approval to the business community of the world than to have Mercedes-Benz decide Georgia is where they want to have their North American headquarters,” said Deal in remarks to a crowd of roughly 200 guests at the glass-walled complex at Sandy Springs’ Abernathy and Barfield roads.
The grand opening was invitation-only, as is a private corporate party there tonight, where star performers will include Atlanta rapper Ludacris and Hillary Scott of the country group Lady Antebellum.
In a side announcement, MBUSA executives said an outpost of the company’s “Lab 1886” innovation division will open in the Atlanta area this summer. A spokesperson said it will have about two-dozen employees. MBUSA officials would not say exactly where it will be, but Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said his understanding is that it will be somewhere within the city of Atlanta.
MBUSA is the North American branch of the German luxury automaker. Since 2015, it has been relocating from a former headquarters in New Jersey and was temporarily housed in a Dunwoody office building. The 200,000-square-foot new headquarters, built from scratch, will house about 1,000 employees in the executive, sales, marketing and customer service areas.
Not mentioned by anyone during the grand opening was the roughly $23 million in tax incentives, plus other assistance, offered by Georgia to lure MBUSA here. The city of Sandy Springs provided roughly $3 million in incentives and road improvements.
As described on a tour last year, the headquarters is designed to be glass-walled and open to encourage collaborative work. When Deal arrived and strolled in with MBUSA president and CEO Dietmar Exler, he remarked on how “there’s glass all over.”
“What a beautiful building this is… It’s a great addition to your community, Rusty,” Deal said during formal remarks.
“Welcome to Sandy Springs,” said Paul to begin his formal remarks, an emphasis on the headquarters’ actual hometown that is often lost in news reports and political discussions.
A point of local contention, including among City Council members, is whether the corporate letterhead will say “Sandy Springs” rather than “Atlanta,” the city name used during the event by one tour guide. One context for those concerns was the city’s agreement to rename part of Barfield as “Mercedes-Benz Drive” in a controversial branding exercise that caused friction with a neighboring Mormon temple. MBUSA is now referring to its headquarters as “1MB” – short for “One Mercedes-Benz Drive” – but the Barfield Road sign is still on the street pole.
However, Paul did not bring up any of those debates and instead told lighthearted stories of the company’s arrival and his own purchase of a Mercedes-Benz.
He described how he did not even know about MBUSA coming until the deal was done. City Economic Development Director Andrea Worthy did know, but was sworn to secrecy by a non-disclosure agreement, he said. As the deal neared closure, she told him it was a “top 10 brand” and joked, “You’re gonna love the samples.”
Paul said he immediately Googled top corporations and saw one likely to provide samples in the form of household goods. “So for 10 days, I’d convinced myself Procter & Gamble was coming to Sandy Springs.”
When he learned it was MBUSA, rather than samples, he and wife Jan went to a local dealership and bought two Mercedes cars. Paul said that Jan previously drove an Audi and he drove a 2009 Chevy Avalanche that he considered “my connection to the common people,” but they decided they had to show some loyalty to the newly local automaker.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said her husband already drives a Mercedes and “refers to it as his fifth child.”
“Mayor Paul, I tip my hat to you,” she said, describing herself as a “bit jealous” that Sandy Springs is home to the headquarters. However, she jokingly noted the Mercedes-Benz logo is bigger on the new Atlanta Falcons stadium downtown, for which the company bought naming rights.
Exler, the MBUSA president and CEO, has already set down local roots as a Brookhaven resident. He thanked Paul, former City Councilmember Gabriel Sterling and Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert for their help with the new headquarters. Among other officials he praised is Attorney General Chris Carr, a Dunwoody resident who led the state economic development department during the headquarters relocation negotiations.
Exler discussed the company’s involvement in local volunteerism and charities, including in Atlanta’s struggling English Avenue and Vine City, and announced a new local deal with Second Helpings to donate leftover food from the corporate cafeteria.
He also spoke about possibly holding “joint events” at the new building with Atlanta’s Austrian and German consulates.
Many other officials and community leaders were in attendance.
Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts said the headquarters is “another feather in the growing cap, the expanding cap, of Fulton County.”
Sandy Springs City Councilmember John Paulson took a tour and referred to the new City Hall coming to City Springs shortly. “I’m learning to do ours in two months,” he said of picking up headquarters-running tips.
Also in attendance were executives from such friendly companies as UPS – a near neighbor based on Sandy Springs’ Glenlake Parkway – and even a rival one, Atlanta-based Porsche Cars North America.
The event included a display of Mercedes vehicles from the past and present. They ranged from the new $2.8 million, 1,000-horsepower “hypercar” to a working version of the original Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a pioneering tricycle-style automobile first sold in 1886 by Karl Benz, one of Mercedes-Benz’s namesakes.