RALEIGH — State officials completed a successful eight-month courtship of the insurance giant MetLife on Thursday when the New York-based company announced plans to add 2,600 high-paying jobs in Cary and Charlotte during the next three years.
The deal, one of the largest economic development projects in recent state history, came at a hefty price. MetLife was awarded a state incentives package worth more than $94 million if it meets hiring and investment goals, and it is expected to receive millions more in local incentives.
The 2,622 new jobs will be split evenly between Charlotte and Cary and will pay average annual wages of $81,891. MetLife plans to establish a hub for its U.S. retail business in Charlotte and a hub for its global technology and operations unit in Cary.
The dual North Carolina campuses are part of a major real estate consolidation effort by MetLife as it seeks to cut $600 million in expenses. The hubs will consolidate workers from more than 30 sites in the Northeast, where real estate is more expensive. The company does not yet know how many of the jobs at the two campuses will be filled with employees relocating from elsewhere.
The deal was hailed by state and local officials as further validation of how North Carolinas two largest metro areas have become increasingly attractive to employers because of their large educated workforces, strong universities and comparatively low operating costs for businesses.
Companies recognize North Carolina is a smart investment, Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference to announce the deal in downtown Raleigh. ... Its fantastic news for people who are looking for work and great news for the economy of this state.
The state has struggled with high unemployment over the past five years and currently has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.5 percent.
Code name: Magellan
MetLife has 90 million customers around the world. It may be best known for its blimp as well as its use of Snoopy and other Peanuts characters in advertising. MetLife Stadium is home to the NFLs New York Giants and Jets.
By choosing to locate its technology unit in Cary, MetLife also joins a growing list of East Coast-based financial services firms that have established operations in the Triangle, among them Fidelity Investments, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse.
I think it shows North Carolina is moving into a leading position in the financial services arena, said state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican.
MetLife, which chose North Carolina over St. Louis, Mo., expects to invest $125.5 million building the two campuses. Meghan Lantier, a MetLife spokeswoman, said the company has not signed any leases but expects to begin moving employees to the new sites later this year. The companys U.S. employees only learned Thursday of the plan to consolidate workforces in Cary and Charlotte, she said.
MetLife is looking at property owned by Raleigh-based Highwoods Properties off Weston Parkway in Cary, said Scott Fogleman, the towns budget director. A Highwoods spokeswoman declined to comment.
State officials were first contacted about the MetLife project in June by the relocation firm KLG Advisors. The project was given the code name Magellan to prevent word from leaking out.
MetLifes CEO, Steven A. Kandarian, and his executive team made a one-day visit to both areas in August. Officials in Wake County had no idea what company they were competing for until last fall.
Keith Crisco, who served as Secretary of Commerce in Gov. Bev Perdues administration, said Thursdays announcement showed that the handling of the project between the two administrations had been largely seamless.
We had it to a point where I thought they were very interested, Crisco said. But a lot of good work was done in the last two months.
A major grant
MetLife received a 12-year state Job Development Investment Grant worth as much as $87.2 million. The state has given larger total incentive packages Dell, for instance, was promised $242 million from the state but the grant is the largest in the history of the JDIG program, which returns to companies a portion of withholding taxes paid by new employees.
The largest previous JDIG grant went to Fidelity, which in 2006 was promised $54.6 million to create 2,000 jobs in Research Triangle Park. Fidelity was also represented by KLG Advisors.
The sheer size of the incentives package is sure to re-ignite the debate over whether offering such money to corporations is good public policy. Robert F. Orr, a Raleigh lawyer who has sued the state unsuccessfully in the past over incentives, said he takes issue with the fact that some of these jobs will moving from other parts of the country.
To me its important, as an American, whether jobs are actually being created or jobs are simply being moved from some other place so that all the joy in Cary, North Carolina, is counterbalanced by some community in another part of the country taking a major hit, he said. If government is going to be subsidizing private industry, it should be subsidizing the creation of new jobs in new industries, not playing the transfer game.
Even if a large number of MetLife employees relocate from out of state, the economic boost to the Triangle and Charlotte will be considerable.
The people who move here are going to buy houses, said Mayor Harold Weinbrecht of Cary, where the Town Council is expected to approve an incentives package for the company this month. Its all a win-win.
And officials hope that MetLifes initial investment in the state will be just the beginning.
We want you to continue to grow, and we want you to make money, McCrory said.
Staff writers John Frank, Martha Quillin, Sarah Nagem, news researcher Teresa Leonard and Charlotte Observer staff writer Andrew Dunn contributed.