Statewide: Charlotte region, February 2015

 In 2015-02

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Spreading its limbs

Lost in the recent controversy over Gov. Pat McCrory’s compensation of more than $600,000 during his four-year tenure on the board of Tree.com was the spectacular comeback of the Charlotte-based online financial-services company. Shares in the company — which changed its name to LendingTree in January — have increased more than sixfold since it was spun off from IAC/InterActiveCorp in August 2008. Most gains came over the last two years as LendingTree focused on generating leads for other companies after selling its own home-loan portfolio to Discover Financial Services in 2013. A marketing campaign and improved website boosted awareness of the company, which has launched comparison-shopping tools for reverse mortgages, credit cards and personal, small-business and student loans. By November, the company reported more than 200,000 people had signed up on the new LendingTree.com site within 50 days. “The big changes are now there are a lot more lenders who are automated,” says CEO Doug Lebda, who founded the company in 1996 and sold it to IAC for more than $730 million in stock in 2003. “That’s enabled us to build up a more robust marketplace.” LendingTree makes money by referring potential customers to lenders, and it earns additional revenue if the loans close. It remains dependent on mortgages, but other fee sources are gaining importance. Non-mortgage business such as auto loans made up 23% of revenue in the third quarter, up from 12% a year earlier. “This personalized loan marketplace has the potential to drive significant lifetime value,” according to a Needham & Co. report.

Bananas split

Southern charm and $22 million in tax incentives over 10 years lured Chiquita Brands International to move its headquarters to Charlotte in 2012, but a takeover by two Brazilian companies in January doomed chances for a long-term stay. The company will close its office within 18 months and move or fire 320 local employees. Chiquita left Cincinnati and leased six floors at Charlotte’s NASCAR Plaza building. The company is paying back the $2.5 million extended so far by state and local governments. Brazilian investment firm Safra Group and juice-maker Grupo Cutrale paid $682 million, beating out Irish rival Fyffes.


Briefs

SALISBURYAgility Fuel Systems will invest $7.5 million in a regional headquarters and production plant here, creating 149 jobs over three years. The Santa Ana, Calif.-based company makes natural-gas fuel systems for trucks and buses. The average annual wage will be $37,761, less than Rowan County’s $40,037.

STATESVILLEHomestar will move its North American headquarters here, adding 120 jobs to its existing 40 by year-end and investing $7 million in its local plant. The China-based company acquired the factory when it bought Toronto-based Talon Systems in 2013. Homestar makes ready-to-assemble furniture and storage products for retailers, including IKEA. The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of $50,000, higher than Iredell County’s $40,120.

CHARLOTTECommunityOne Bancorp completed a private stock offering of $25 million, priced at $10.56 per share.  The community bank, based here, plans to use the proceeds to increase commercial, real-estate and residential-mortgage lending. CommunityOne has about $2 billion in assets and 50 branches in the state.

BESSEMER CITY — Israel-based Tosaf Group will open its first U.S. manufacturing plant here, investing $13.1 million over three years. The privately owned company will create 75 jobs with an average annual wage of $38,895, higher than Gaston County’s $36,842. Tosaf makes polymers used in plastic products for the agriculture, automotive and construction industries.

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