Centene expansion showcases state’s strength, Copeland says

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Health insurer Centene promises as many as 6,000 jobs at its new East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, delivering the “transformative” project that North Carolina has been seeking for years.

The fact the development is occurring in one of the state’s hottest submarkets — instead of a slower-growing area — shouldn’t deter from the biggest jobs announcement in state history, says Tony Copeland, secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Tony CopelandTony Copeland

“The company clearly has confidence in North Carolina’s current and future economy and workforce despite the worst pandemic in memory,” he says. “Don’t miss that they will have an annual payroll of $324 million [within five to 10 years] that will ripple through all socioeconomic levels of our state.”

The Clayton, Mo.-based company said construction of the new campus will begin in August. The first phase of construction is expected to be completed in the second half of 2022, and will accommodate about 3,200 employees. The next phase of construction will begin in 2024, and accommodate an additional 3,000 employees. Centene said it has nearly 600 employees in Raleigh and Rocky Mount.

The company has nearly 70,000 employees and projects $110 billion in revenue in 2020.

North Carolina beat finalists York County, S.C., and Tampa, Fla. for the project, with Copeland noting that state offers what he called an unmatched combination of life sciences, health care and financial services sectors, along with a thriving international airport in Charlotte. Despite the pandemic, the state’s tally of new corporate job promises and investments is ahead of last year’s pace, buoyed by Centene, he says.

“People realize they can reach their aspirations by relocating to North Carolina,’ Copeland says.

CEO Michael Neidorff has led Centene for 23 years as it became the fourth-largest U.S. health insurer, specializing in the federal Medicaid program for low-income citizens. Shares have jumped 30-folds since a 2001 IPO.

Neidorff said that North Carolina was on his target list from “day one.” The company now has about 600 employees in the state, many based in Rocky Mount. State officials say North Carolina’s main competition was York County, S.C., which is adjacent to Mecklenburg County, and Tampa, Fla.

Later, Neidorff blasted his company’s current headquarters market of St. Louis, telling the city’s business newspaper that the Missouri city needs to improve its business climate to show it can attract big companies. National media perceptions of protest-related crime are also hurting St. Louis, he said.

N.C. lawmakers approved a change in state economic development policy two years ago to allow for larger incentive grants. The oft-stated purpose was to attract a major auto plant to the state, mostly likely near the Triad area. North Carolina remains the sole southern state without such a facility.

But the Centene expansion, the first use of the new incentives approach, will have major statewide benefits, Copeland says.

Along with IT, finance and other jobs, Centene will hire a significant number of  customer service and claims processing positions, says Frank Emory Jr., chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. “Some of those will be entry-level positions with opportunities for upskilling. So their hiring impact will have a broad reach.” Those jobs are likely to average more than $60,000 a year, while the overall average will be about $100,000, Centene says.

Charlotte has the nation’s fastest-growing pool of technology talent, according to the latest Scoring Tech Talent Report from CBRE, a global real estate services firm, according to the partnership. The city grew its tech talent pool by 48.4% from 2013-2018, topping 50 U.S. and Canadian markets included in the study, notes Christopher Chung, CEO of the partnership.

 

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