Aug 18, 2022 - Business

Centene cancels plans for $1 billion regional headquarters in Charlotte

Rendering courtesy of Centene

Health insurance giant Centene has canceled plans to establish a new East Coast headquarters and tech hub near UNC Charlotte.

What they’re saying: The St. Louis Fortune 50 company cited a “fundamental shift in the way people work” as the reason for its decision. These days, almost 90% of its workforce is fully remote or working in some sort of hybrid environment.

“As a result of this shift, we have decided not to open an East Coast Headquarters in Charlotte, and many of our 1,700 employees across the state will work remotely or in a hybrid working model that suits their personal needs,” a Centene spokesperson said in a statement to Axios.

  • Charlotte Business Journal first reported the news of Centene’s decision Thursday.

Why it matters: When Centene announced plans to open a Charlotte campus, it was the biggest single jobs announcement in North Carolina history. It had the codename Project Big Boy. That was 2020, in the midst of a pandemic and an economic downturn. Still, Centene was optimistic about Charlotte.

  • Centene planned to spend $1 billion on the campus.
  • At the time, the company vowed to create 3,200 jobs here. If it met those hiring goals, it would have received up to $450 million in incentives from the state of North Carolina, Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte.

That incentives package included $26 million from the county. “With this change of plans, those funds will no longer be available to Centene since those funds where based on a physical presence in Mecklenburg County,” spokesperson Andrew Fair said in an email.

  • Centene would have received nearly $32 million from the city of Charlotte if it met its job-creation goals. But the city has not paid out any incentives, per spokesperson Gregg Watkins.
  • Centene did not receive any incentives payments from the state either, NC Commerce Department spokesperson David Rhoades said.
Centene building under construction in University City in summer 2021. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Flashback: Last summer, then-CEO Michael Neidorff told reporters Centene’s campus could ultimately accommodate 6,000 employees. He also suggested that it was a possibility that the company would move its global headquarters to Charlotte.

“This is a great facility. We’ll see how things evolve,” Neidorff said at the time. “Everything’s always on the table, but right now we have a wonderful headquarters (in St. Louis).”

Zoom out: Centene is in the midst of building a 800,000-square-foot, state-of-the art facility in Charlotte. It will be completed within a few weeks, per CBJ.

  • The company told CBJ it’s in conversations to find another company to occupy the building.
  • Under new leadership, Centene has been scaling back its real estate footprint, per CBJ. The company also told CBJ its decision to nix its plans for a regional headquarters in Charlotte will not lead to any layoffs here.

Centene currently employs about 700 people in Charlotte, according to Watkins, the city spokesperson. They’ll maintain a “significant presence” in Charlotte, including at Camp North End.

“I remain optimistic that their decision to build the planned facility to sell will result in $540 million private investment that will attract new business to the area,” Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera said in a statement.

Related Axios story: 3 big ideas for University City’s growth

Editor’s note: We updated this story with additional quotes.

Rendering courtesy of Centene.
Construction on the Centene campus in 2021. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

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