Some Mecklenburg County commissioners are questioning whether MetLife, which last week announced it is bringing 1,300 jobs to Charlotte, had already settled on coming before the board was asked to approve about $2 million in relocation incentives.
On Saturday, less than 24 hours after a press conference announcing the deal at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerces headquarters, emails began flying between commissioners. They said evidence suggested that MetLife knew it was coming to Charlotte before commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval for the incentives.
Commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham said questions about the timing of the incentives vote started to enter her mind when news broke that the company had picked North Carolina and media events were arranged only two days after the commissioners voted. Later, she learned that some MetLife executives had already been picking out schools and colleges for their children.
In my opinion, the deal was done when we first learned of it and voted for incentives, Cotham, a Democrat, wrote in her first email to commissioners on Saturday.
Replied Republican Commissioner Bill James: I think you are correct and have been thinking the same thing. One of the rules for a grant (for incentives) is that we must conclude that If we dont give them the money they wont come.
I dont think we were told the whole truth. They were already planning on coming.
But Natalie English, who oversees public policy for the Charlotte Chamber, denied that MetLife had determined it was coming to Charlotte before the vote. The Chamber had requested the incentives from commissioners in a closed-door session Tuesday.
English told commissioners their support was crucial.
Without your positive, unanimous votes, this company would not have had an announcement in Charlotte on Friday, she wrote in an email Saturday. This deal was not done before your vote on Tuesday.
MetLife plans to bring 2,600 jobs to the state half to Charlotte, half to Cary as it consolidates U.S. operations. Gov. Pat McCrory called it the biggest jobs announcement ever for North Carolina. All told, the state and local governments could provide nearly $100 million in incentives to the insurance giant.
MetLife spokesman John Calagna said the average salary for the 2,600 jobs will be around $80,000.
Calagna, in an email to the Observer, said that without the incentives that local and state government have pledged to the company, it wouldnt have brought the jobs to North Carolina.
The Chamber, MetLife and other recruiters have said North Carolina won out over St. Louis.
Commissioners could vote as early as April 2 on final approval for the incentives.
Cotham said she will vote for them, despite her doubts about when MetLife made its decision.
Under the incentives package from the county, MetLife would get back 90 percent of the property taxes it pays to the county each year for eight years. The grant, from the countys Business Investment Program, is estimated to be worth $1.9 million over the eight years.
Raleigh lawyer Robert F. Orr, who has unsuccessfully sued the state over incentives, says they arent a good thing for the country. Orr and others contend that positions are simply being shifted from one part of the U.S. to another.
Cotham said she was surprised to learn Tuesday that MetLife was seeking incentives and the board would be expected to vote Tuesday night.
The day before, she said, at a press conference for another jobs announcement, an excited English told her that a company was interested in coming to Charlotte and that she hoped Cotham would support it. English told the Observer that she couldnt tell Cotham the companys name, citing a nondisclosure agreement with MetLife.
It was during a closed-door session of the dinner meeting that commissioners learned MetLife wanted to come to Charlotte, Cotham said. Roughly 15 to 20 minutes after, commissioners voted to award the incentives.
Cotham voted in favor.
I thought, My God, weve got to get them.
But she said she didnt like that commissioners had hardly any time to think about the request.
We just want more information sooner, and we dont want to have 10 minutes to decide on $2 million, she said.
Republican Commissioner Karen Bentley wrote to Cotham by email that she was not sure what the consequence would have been if we would have chosen to not offer incentives to MetLife.
MetLifes Calagna insisted that the company was still exploring its options before the incentives were final.
The company seriously considered both North Carolina and St. Louis, Mo., and as part of that process, looked into everything these communities had to offer its employees, including potential office facilities, housing and schools, he said.