Centene Corp., a St. Louis health insurance giant, will invest over $1 billion and bring at least 3,237 jobs to the University area of Charlotte over the next decade.
In turn, the company could receive up to $450 million in incentives over 39 years. It is the single largest job announcement in the history of the state’s current incentives program, officials said Wednesday.
“Today I am proud to announce that Centene Corporation, a pioneering, multi-national health care enterprise will establish it’s East Coast regional headquarters and technology hub in Charlotte,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press conference Wednesday.
Centene CEO Michael Neidorff said Centene is one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., serving 23 million people health care including the most vulnerable.
Under the state incentives plan, the company agreed to create 3,237 jobs. But Neidorff said the move to Charlotte will create a total of 6,000 jobs in the coming years.
Centene already has 600 workers at North Carolina locations including Charlotte, Durham, Wilmington and Rocky Mount, Neidorff said.
Tracy Dodson, assistant city manager and economic development director, told reporters the site is on undeveloped land in the University Research Park area that backs up to a greenway for “security purposes.”
Centene plans to break ground as early as August.
Construction will happen in phases, with the first phase expected to be complete in the second half of 2022 and a second phase to begin in 2024, according to the company.
The company will build a 1 million square foot regional headquarters, focusing on information technology, state officials said. Centene also secured an additional 50 acres on top of the initial 80 acres, for room to grow.
The campus will have six buildings, including an early childhood development center and a training center, as well as walking trails and water features, Neidorff said.
North Carolina primarily competed with Tampa, Fla., and York County, S.C., for the Centene project, state officials said.
The state Economic Investment Committee voted Wednesday to approve a grant worth around $392 million for the company, which includes free community college training the state will provide.
The average salary for the Centene positions is $100,089. Mecklenburg County’s overall average annual wage is currently $68,070.
Jobs will include technology, operations, customer service, finance, human resources and medical management positions.
Mecklenburg County and Charlotte officials will give the company up to $26 million and $31.6 million in incentives respectively. The company gets all the incentives if it follows job creation and investment requirements.
Mecklenburg County board chairman George Dunlap said the Centene move will foster relations with UNC Charlotte. Plus, it will create 2,500 secondary jobs with its investment, he said.
“It will provide an estimated $102 million net revenue over the next 20 years,” Dunlap said. That money will help fund services like parks and libraries.
“This project touches every corner of Mecklenburg County,” Dunlap said.
“We intend to be a strong partner in this community,” Neidorff said, adding that he and his wife plan to buy a condominium in Charlotte.
Neidorff also addressed critical issues about systemic racism and inequities.
“Many of us are navigating viewings of sorrow, frustration and anger. And, I know for many, especially for our African-American community, these past weeks have been particularly hard,” he said. “As we continue to address these critical issues you can be sure that we hear you, we see you, that we care about you.”
More than half of the company’s employees are people of color, according to its website, and three-quarters are women.
“Today’s announcement is a historic occasion for Charlotte and comes at a most opportune time,” said Charlottte Mayor Vi Lyles. “Our entire region will benefit from the company’s community-driven mission and commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”
Centene, No. 42 on the Fortune 500 list this year, is the largest Medicaid managed care organization in the country.
The company was founded in 1984 and has about 70,000 employees.
Centene reported revenue of $26 billion for the first quarter of this year, a 41% growth compared to the same time last year.
The announcement comes amid a surge in unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a million people have applied for unemployment benefits in North Carolina since mid-March.
Centene’s expansion follows a number of corporations relocating or adding jobs in Charlotte.
Last year, Lowe’s announced it would build a 2,000-employee global tech hub in South End, and Honeywell officially moved its headquarters from New Jersey to Charlotte.
But the incentives offered to Centene dwarf that of other corporate relocations in recent years.
The next largest amount offered t
o a company was in 2005, when the state pledged to give Dell $260 million. In return the company would create 1,700 jobs and invest $100 million in a Winston-Salem plant. But Dell closed the plant and laid off around 900 employees just a few years later.
Dell’s incentives were largely offered in the form of a different type of tax break.
The largest grant previously offered under the existing incentives program, known as the Job Development Investment Grant, was to MetLife for $87 million in 2013 for facilities in Cary and Charlotte.
New type of incentive
The Centene expansion represents the first time the state of North Carolina has used a new type of incentive known as a “transformative” Job Development Investment grant.
In 2017, around the same time that Amazon was searching for the location of its HQ2 expansion, the N.C. General Assembly created a special class of incentives for companies that were willing to invest at least $4 billion and create 5,000 jobs in the state.
The transformative incentive packages would allow the state to bypass usual restrictions on incentives, so that larger packages could be offered.
The General Assembly revised that program in 2018 — around the same time Apple was reportedly considering Research Triangle Park for an expansion — and lowered the threshold to $1 billion in investments and 3,000 jobs.