March 08--The region missed out on 2,600 new jobs this week when insurance giant MetLife chose North Carolina over St. Louis County for a major corporate consolidation.
The company said Thursday it will open a divisional headquarters in Charlotte and a technology hub in suburban Raleigh, moving jobs there from several northeastern states and California over three years. According to local economic development officials and North Carolina documents obtained by the Associated Press, MetLife's second choice was St. Louis.
After working on the deal for several months, the St. Louis Regional Chamber was told Thursday morning that MetLife had chosen to go elsewhere, said Steve Johnson, the Chamber's executive vice president.
"We put a great proposal together," Johnson said.
It would have been one of the largest expansions metro St. Louis has seen in years. The jobs pay, on average, nearly $82,000, and would have been the biggest in a string of wins for the region's financial services industry, which has grown in part by attracting jobs from more expensive parts of the country.
Instead, MetLife is going to North Carolina -- a place St. Louis has battled with in the past for jobs.
A MetLife spokesman did not return messages late Friday, but executive vice president Eric Steigerwalt told the Associated Press there were several reasons for the decision.
"The strong business climate, access to universities and colleges and the desirable cost of living in North Carolina were significant factors in choosing to establish these new campuses in Cary and Charlotte," he said.
The Tarheel State also offered state and local incentives that could total nearly $100 million over 12 years if MetLife meets its job targets. It's that state's biggest-ever package for one company. North Carolina's governor used to work for the law firm that MetLife hired to help broker the deal, according to the Associated Press. North Carolina officials have said there was no conflict.
St. Louis County Economic Council president Denny Coleman said St. Louis was also prepared to make a sizable offer.
"It was a very substantial package we put on the table," Coleman said.
While Johnson said he hadn't yet been fully briefed on MetLife's decision-making, he noted that they are splitting the jobs across two metropolitan areas -- Charlotte and Raleigh -- which would likely give them a greater pool of workers to draw from than they could find in St. Louis. MetLife currently employs about 500 people in Sunset Hills; this move is not expected to affect them.
Whatever the reason, he said, its hurts to miss out on a "huge" opportunity like this. They don't come around that often.
"The good news is those are the kinds of deals St. Louis competes for," said Johnson. "The bad news is we didn't get it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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