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By Tony Mecia
Get ready to start hearing the name “Centene” a lot more around Charlotte.
In the biggest economic-development deal in state history, the CEO of health-insurance giant Centene said Wednesday that it will build an East Coast regional headquarters and technology hub on an 80-acre site in the University City area — a massive project that he said could eventually employ more than 6,000 workers. Average salaries: more than $100,000 a year.
The company plans to break ground on the site — off Mallard Creek Road north of W.T. Harris Boulevard, part of University Research Park — as soon as next month. It has committed to invest $1 billion over the next 12 years and to create about 3,200 jobs.
The deal was greased by a $388 million state grant, the largest such grant in state history. It is tied to job creation and investment and would be paid to the company over a period as long as 39 years, the N.C. Commerce Department said.
Praise for Charlotte
At a virtual news conference, CEO Michael Neidorff — wearing a pin with North Carolina’s state flag — thanked state and local leaders and heaped praise on Charlotte, which is always music to Charlotte’s ears. Charlotte, he said, “has all the elements of a great city: successful schools, impressive infrastructure, great diversity and tremendous opportunity for upward economic mobility.” He said millennials are moving to town because they are “enticed by a city on the move and a city that continues to grow.”
He praised Charlotte’s investment in light rail and its airport. He said the campus will include 1 million square feet of office space in six buildings, a training center, walking trails, a water feature and places for “spiritual nourishment.” The plans also showed four parking decks. The area will “leverage the treed foothill-like setting to create a sense of seclusion from the urban environment.” He shared a few renderings:
Centene, number 42 on the Fortune 500 list, is a fast-growing health insurance company headquartered in St. Louis that has about $75 billion in annual revenue. And it projects its 2020 revenue will increase by more than 50 percent as the company expands.
Another boost for the UNC Charlotte area
The deal is a big win for the University City area, which lately has been attracting a number of business expansions and new housing and retail developments. Economic development officials like to tout the area’s proximity to UNC Charlotte, relative lack of traffic, affordability and quality of life.
“There is a lot of hustle and bustle, without a doubt,” said Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, an economic development group that champions the area. It’s now the second-largest employment center behind uptown and also has a tree canopy that provides “a very verdant environment.”
County commission chairman George Dunlap said the company’s presence will have a “profound and lasting impact” on the University area and will help the entire county. “University City is positioned to become a powerhouse in driving employment and growth in the region and in the state,” he said.
At University Research Park, Centene will join other big companies including Wells Fargo, TIAA and Duke Energy. The company says it also has on option on an additional 50 acres for potential expansion down the line.
The company’s name is pronounced “sent-EEN.”