MetLife emails offer window into N.C.’s corporate recruiting process

dbracken@newsobserver.comApril 19, 2013 

  • MetLife’s JDIG and the McCrory budget

    MetLife received a 12-year state Job Development Investment Grant that could give the company as much as $87.2 million – the largest in the history of the JDIG program, which returns to companies a portion of withholding taxes paid by new employees.

    The sheer size of the grant led Commerce Department staff to suggest late last year that the McCrory administration would need to increase the annual $15 million cap on JDIGs.

    “When the new administration is in place we will need to discuss the need to request an increase in the 2013 Cap for JDIG,” Stewart Dickinson, director of the state’s Commerce Finance Center, wrote in a Dec. 13 email to his colleagues.

    The cap limits the amount of JDIGs the state can issue in a calendar year, and is calculated based on the maximum that each grantee could receive in a single year over the lifetime of the grant. Since MetLife could receive as much as $9.96 million in a single year, the company’s award has had the effect of greatly diminishing the amount of JDIGs the state could award during the remainder of 2013.

    (Including MetLife, the state has issued eight JDIG grants so far this year that count for $12.44 million against the cap.)

    Instead of raising the cap, the McCrory administration has proposed in its budget to calculate it in a different way. McCrory’s budget calls for a $30 million, two-year JDIG cap that would be tied to the state’s fiscal calendar, which begins July 1.

    “It does give you a little bit more flexibility,” said Josh Ellis, a Commerce spokesman. “Since it’s on a two-year cycle, if you had a significant project it would give you the flexibility to manage that.”

    Staff writer David Bracken

North Carolina officials were repeatedly forced to reschedule a planned visit for MetLife executives last fall as they dealt with a series of unforeseen delays.

Those are among the details contained in thousands of emails released this week in response to a public records request by The News & Observer.

The emails offer a window into the state’s corporate recruiting process, an at times tedious process that requires recruiters to deal with everything from scheduling tours of gated communities to tracking down statistics on the local Indian population.

The emails describe months of back-and-forth between state and local officials and the two firms that represented MetLife – the New York relocation firm KLG Advisors and the Charlotte law firm Moore & Van Allen, where Gov. Pat McCrory was employed until just days before taking office.

McCrory has said he was not involved with MetLife when he worked for the law firm, and the emails don’t include anything that contradicts that statement. It does appear that the governor’s aides were sensitive to his former employer’s involvement in the deal.

In early January, just days after McCrory was sworn in as governor, Tony Almeida, a member of McCrory’s transition team, was asked to meet with representatives from KLG and Commerce about the MetLife deal.

“What time? Will Moore Van Allen be involved?” Almeida, now McCrory’s top economy and jobs adviser, asked in a Jan. 8 email.

MetLife officials first visited North Carolina in mid-July, spending a day in both the Triangle and Charlotte. In Charlotte, the group met with TIAA-CREF executives, according to emails. In the Triangle, the group met with officials from the Research Triangle Regional Partnership as well as executives with the investment bank Credit Suisse.

Diversity, gated communities were factors

The emails show that MetLife executives were particularly interested in hearing about Credit Suisse’s experience in the Triangle. In 2004, Credit Suisse was the first major financial services firm to relocate a substantial portion of its operations here. The investment bank is also a former client of KLG, which represented Credit Suisse when it negotiated $14.4 million in state and local incentives in 2004.

Diversity was also a factor. Holly Ewen, chief of staff for KLG, told state recruiters in an Oct. 2 email that the client wanted to know more about diversity in the community, particularly the size of the Indian population.

“They’ll likely have a fair number of key people they relocate who are Indian, and they’ll want to get comfortable that these folks will be comfortable in the area (e.g., there are religious facilities, there are other folks of Indian descent so they’ll feel comfortable, that sort of thing,” Ewen wrote.

Although MetLife ended up locating its Triangle campus in Cary, a town with a sizable Indian population, the company considered a number of sites in Durham County as well, according to the emails.

In Charlotte, the client requested a tour of the local gated communities. Tim Nitti, a principal with KLG, told state and local officials in a Sept. 14 email that the head of the MetLife business considering Charlotte had visited the city several weeks earlier and noticed a number of gated communities that looked promising.

“They took the opportunity to spend some time exploring, and noted a number of gated communities that looked like something they would want to see, but they were obviously unable to pull in and drive around,” Nitti wrote. “It would be great to have the Real Estate folks take us into one and give them a sense.”

Fretting over media reports

North Carolina officials sealed the deal in early March, when MetLife was awarded a package of state and local incentives worth nearly $100 million if it meets hiring and investment goals. MetLife plans to add 2,622 new jobs that will be split evenly between Charlotte and Cary, which will be a hub for the insurer’s global technology and operations unit.

For a time it appeared as though North Carolina officials were snake bitten in their efforts to market the two metro areas to MetLife officials. The company’s second visit was delayed three times before being completed successfully.

In October, MetLife’s visit was postponed after the insurer’s corporate jet had mechanical trouble. The visit was rescheduled for early November, but that too was cancelled when Superstorm Sandy struck New York City. A week later MetLife officials again had to postpone after getting fogged in at the airport.

“ ... after a while, makes you wonder if this just isn’t meant to be :),” wrote Ken Tate, director of development and external relations for N.C. State University’s computer science department, which had been scheduled to give a presentation to the company.

But North Carolina remained in the running, along with St. Louis, and by early December the Perdue Administration was preparing to hand over the project to a new administration.

“This is a huge project. We need to discuss,” Keith Crisco, Perdue’s commerce secretary, wrote to Almeida, in a Dec. 6 email.

By Jan. 22, MetLife’s applications to receive a Job Development Investment Grant were in the hands of the company’s consultants. MetLife made another two-day trip to Charlotte and the Triangle in late January, and was scheduled to return for a fourth visit in mid-February.

But soon media reports began appearing with details about “Project Magellan,” the code name that Commerce officials had given to MetLife. On Feb. 7, MetLife’s representatives cancelled a scheduled visit for later that month.

Two days later Almeida forwarded a link to a Charlotte Observer story about MetLife possibly bringing 1,000 jobs to the city to Sharon Decker, McCrory’s Commerce Secretary.

“Very frustrating. I think I am going to have a talk to Their folks,” Decker wrote. “These young reporters have no clue what they are putting at risk ... only after a hot story!”

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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