Centene ends big plans to move East Coast headquarters to Charlotte

Guests look at a model of the Centene Corp. East Coast headquarters campus plans under construction at University City Research Park in Charlotte in this 2021 file photo. Centene confirmed that it will now no longer be coming to Charlotte.

Guests look at a model of the Centene Corp. East Coast headquarters campus plans under construction at University City Research Park in Charlotte in this 2021 file photo. Centene confirmed that it will now no longer be coming to Charlotte.

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

health insurance hundred giant confirmed Thursday afternoon that it is backing away from plans to create its East Coast hub in Charlotte, a stunning blow to the city, which boasted the 3,200 jobs and $1 billion investment Centene had promised a time.

Centene made the decision about the University City site because more people prefer to work from home or in a hybrid situation, a company spokesperson told The Charlotte Observer.

“Today, nearly 90% of our workforce works fully remotely or in a hybrid work environment, and workplace flexibility is essential to attracting and retaining our best talent,” the spokesperson said.

The move surprised local leaders.

“We are very disappointed to see this project essentially evaporate into thin air,” said Tobe Holmes, interim CEO of University City Partners.

When the deal was unveiled in mid-2020 to much fanfare, it was the largest job posting in the history of the state’s current incentive program. Centene was in line for up to $450 million in incentives over 39 years, and company leaders said their move would ultimately create 6,000 jobs.

The St. Louis-based managed care company serves more than half a million North Carolinians and was recently ranked 26th on the list latest fortune 500 list. Centene said its range of government-sponsored and commercial programs Health programs provides products to nearly 1 in 15 people in the US

Work on its center at University Research Park began two years ago and has been underway ever since.

“These decisions (to end their Charlotte plans) will not affect the comprehensive, quality health care we provide to our members or the long-standing partnerships we have with the state, our providers, and our community partners,” the spokesperson said. of Centene.

Centene employees who live in North Carolina will continue to work remotely or in a hybrid work environment.

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A construction worker, left, climbs a set of stairs in the lobby area of ​​what would be the 800,000-square-foot Centene Corp. East Coast headquarters at University City Research Park in Charlotte in this file photo from 2021. jeff sinner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

history of the deal

In July 2020, state and local officials promoted the headquarters of Centene treat as a boon to the region and the state with its promise of a billion dollar investment and over 3,200 jobs.

Governor Roy Cooper said he was “proud to announce” the agreement.

The company planned to build a 1 million square foot regional headquarters, focusing on information technology. The campus would eventually have six buildings, including an early childhood development center and training center, as well as walking trails and water fountains.

These would have been well-paying jobs in areas such as technology, operations, customer service, finance, human resources, and medical administration. The median salary for Centene positions is $100,089 in a county where the overall median annual salary was $68,070 in 2020.

Centene CEO at the time, Michael Neidorff, said during the announcement, “We intend to be a strong partner in this community.”

North Carolina primarily competed with Tampa, Florida, and York County, South Carolina, for the project, state officials said.

Cooper was also present with other state and local officials as they toured the site in June 2021 to view construction progress.

The first phase was expected to open in 2022, and the Centene campus was ultimately planned to cover 2.4 million square feet amid natural green space in University Research Park.

“When you talk about so many highly paid employees with a company like Centene that is committed to diversity and inclusion and is committed to ensuring everyone has healthcare in North Carolina, it’s a good partnership for us,” Cooper said at the time. of the Tour.

But late Thursday, Cooper’s office released a statement saying “we’re disappointed” Centene won’t be moving to the Charlotte campus and acknowledging the company is “drastically cutting” office space across the country. But the governor’s office still sees potential in the north Charlotte site, said Mary Scott Winstead, Cooper’s deputy director of communications.

City and County Concerns

The city of Charlotte will not honor the $31.6 million incentives initially promised to the company through a business investment grant now that Centene has backed out, city communications director Jason Schneider said.

Gregg Phipps, who serves on the Charlotte City Council and lives in University City, said the decision came as a surprise to him. But he understands that the pandemic is affecting companies’ return to the office.

“I’m disappointed about that,” Phipps said. “(COVID) just took its toll and affected their plans.”

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Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles attended a news conference announcing that Centene Corp., a St. Louis health insurance giant, will invest more than $1 billion and create at least 3,237 jobs in the Charlotte college area for the next decade. In turn, the company could receive $465.7 million in incentives over 39 years. It’s the largest job posting in the history of the state’s current incentive program, officials said Wednesday. charlotte town

Also, the State had not yet paid any incentive to Centene.

Mecklenburg County was willing to spend $26 million in incentives for the company and, like the city, will change course.

“With this change in plans, those funds will no longer be available to Centene as those funds were based on a physical presence in Mecklenburg County,” said county spokesman Andy Fair.

Phipps hopes construction that has begun on the 800,000-square-foot office will attract other businesses.

“I hope it will be a magnet for corporate interests with more ambitious plans,” Phipps said. “It’s a great space there, a beautiful space.”

The Charlotte Business Journal was the first to report Centene’s decision.

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Members of the media toured the Centene Corp. East Coast headquarters under construction at 2405 Governor Hunt Road in University City Research Park in Charlotte in 2021. Someone else will occupy the site now. jeff syner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

What’s next for the site?

Cenetne has committed to finishing construction on the office building and putting it up for sale, according to Deputy City Manager Tracy Dodson.

Dodson also said she was disappointed with the company’s decision.

Still, he added, “Centene will maintain a significant presence in Charlotte, including 700 employees, and plans to keep its space at Camp North End, near Uptown.”

Holmes had recently taken a tour of the building, which he described as having about six months of work left. The building had a lot of nice components like a large atrium when you walk in and water fountains, he said.

The news shows how unpredictable the office market remains in a post-COVID world, Holmes said.

He is still confident that the building will be leased in the future, noting its proximity to a nearby greenway. It remains to be seen if it is with a single tenant or with several.

Observer Business Editor Adam Bell contributed to this report.

This story was originally published August 18, 2022 6:26 p.m.

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Genna Contino covers local government for the Observer, where she informs and serves people living in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. She attended the University of South Carolina and grew up in Rock Hill.

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