Lured by southern hospitality, conservative politics and the biggest stars of the Republican Party, A-T-O Corp., a Cleveland conglomerate, is moving to Virginia.
Number 361 on the Fortune 500, A-T-O will move its corporate headquarters to the suburbs of Richmond, where the company will develop a 1,000-acre hotel, office and shopping complex.
Gov. John Dalton announced the move today at a press conference in the state capital with A-T-O Chairman Harry E. Figgie Jr.
Figgie credited Dalton with "removing the roadblocks" and enticing the $700 million a year business away from Ohio, as well as heading off a rival bid by Atlanta.
Dalton's version of how it was done gave a rare glimpse of the corporate courtship used to land the economic equivalent of a "10."
The first suggestion that A-T-O move its 150-person executive office to Virginia came from former Virginia congressman and Ford White House political aide Jack Marsh, a member of A-T-O's board of directors.
When the company decided to look for a new home, Figgie said, "Jack Marsh put his arm around my shoulder and said, 'Have you considered Virginia.'"
Next came an invitation to Figgie and his wife to come and spend the night at the mansion, the governor told reporters.
Then Mrs. Dalton squired Mrs. Figgie around Richmond for a couple of days "to show her the things the women are interested in," Dalton added.
Figgie admitted he was impressed not only with the folks and the hospitality, but also with Virginia's conservative political image.
"We talked about it a good deal," smiled Figgie, who supports "economic education" programs in schools and colleges. His company puts out a cartoon version of its annual report for young people to give them an early dose of capitalism.
Virginia's right-to-work law was "essential" to the decision, Figgie added.
"We do not move any of our new plants into state that do not have a right-to-work law."
Figgie said A-T-O chose the headquarters site a dozen miles north of downtown Richmond because it sees a business corridor developing all the way from Washington.
"We think you're the next city that's going to explode," Figgie said at the statehouse press conference.
A-T-O properties, one of the 16 operatiang divisions of the highly diversified company, will turn a former golf course into a multi-million dollar project anchored by the company headquarters.
Partner in the development called Virginia Center will be C. B. Robertson Associates, a Richmond real estate firm.
Besides shopping centers, A-T-O is in businesses ranging from Rawlings Sporting Goods to American LaFrance fire engines. Subsidiaries make fire extinguishers at Badger-Powhatan Corp. in Charlottesville, and battery-powered industrial vehicles at Kersey Manufacturing in Bluefield.
Figgie said the company will hire a firm to design and build its headquarters starting this summer and will move 150 people from Willoughby, Ohio, next year. Another hundred employees in a computer center will follow later.
A 300-room hotel and conference center will be built adjacent to the A-T-O offices as soon as possible. Three or four years from now a large regional shopping center is planned across I-95, anchored by three major department stores.
Figgie estimated it will take 10 years to fully develop the thousand-acre tract, which is just north of the intersection of I-95 and the Richmond beltway currently under construction. The recently-completed headquarters of Best Products Corp. is a few miles away on the interstate.
The move from Cleveland to Richmond is part of a Figgie plan to shift A-T-O's whole operatiaons from the northeastern industrial states to sunnier states with less active labor unions, Figgie said.
Southern California and the southeast are where most of the divisions are migratiang to, he explained.
Figgie took over what was then the Automatic Sprinkler Corp. in 1964 when "it hadn't made any money for five years" and began acquiring others businesses.
The highly-diversified operation expanded to 72 divisions, then was consolidated into 31 operating units. Five new ventures were started, producing a company with 36 lines of business, and sales of $690 million last year. A-T-O earned profits of $17.5 million in 1979. The company's shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.