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China-based IT firm to set up U.S. headquarters in Charlotte

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The largest information technology consulting firm in China said Monday it will plant its new U.S headquarters in Charlotte, bringing 200 jobs with an average salary of $100,000.

Pactera Technology International, a Beijing-based firm with 23,000 employees worldwide, will make its U.S. headquarters in SouthPark Towers at 6100 Fairview Road, not far from SouthPark Mall.

It’s the latest addition to a growing list of Chinese firms setting up or expanding operations in Charlotte. Local officials, who have been aggressively recruiting in Asia, said they expect more to come.

Pactera already has about 60 workers in Charlotte, where it takes up half a floor of the high-rise office building. Company officials said they don’t expect to lease more space as they bring on additional employees over the next three years.

Chamber President Bob Morgan called the commitment the largest Charlotte investment ever by a Chinese company and the largest investment by any Asian company in the city’s recent history.

“Folks, that’s a $20 million payroll annually,” he said during a press conference at the chamber. “Multiply that by five years or 10 years and this is a significant investment in our local economy.”

Pactera officials played a corporate video about the firm – but apologized because the video was in Chinese, with English subtitles.

“This is a good example of how Charlotte is globalizing,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx, who led a trade mission to China in 2011. “The world is changing, and we’ve got to change with it. ... We’ve got to get in the game of global competition.”

Pactera provides IT consulting and outsourcing services to about 70 Fortune 500 clients, said Douglas Vinson, the company’s Charlotte-based vice president of sales and marketing.

He said the firm will be looking for senior-level IT staff, as well as experts in analytics and big data. The company found Charlotte’s status as the nation’s second-largest banking center attractive.

“Charlotte has proved to be the ideal location,” Vinson said. “We expect significant growth in the next few years.”

China has seen explosive economic growth, but the trend has slowed in recent years. On top of that, Chinese wages have been rising, making it less of a bargain for Chinese firms to stay home. All that is enticing firms to look overseas, said Richard Conboy, a management professor at UNC Charlotte.

Morgan said China analysts have disagreed about the country’s growth prospects, but Charlotte is optimistic. Five years ago, the chamber hired Eileen Cai, a native of Shanghai, as its vice president for economic development for Asia.

She said 11 Chinese firms have established offices in Charlotte in the past two years. As more grow into global corporations, she said, they will be looking to expand in the United States.

“It’s a natural thing to have a presence here,” she said. “Our job is to get in front of those companies when they are ready, and convince them to pick Charlotte.”

Just under 1,000 foreign-owned firms have offices in Charlotte, Morgan said. No incentives were offered by local officials to land the Pactera headquarters, he added.

That didn’t surprise Harry Bowen, a professor of international business and finance at Queens University of Charlotte.

“The Chinese have little clue about how to work in the U.S. market. They really don’t understand how we do things. For them, what they want is the ability to establish here and learn.”

Chinese technology firms have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story detailing how the Obama administration is considering trade sanctions and other options to combat what is seen as an aggressive Chinese government cyberspying effort aimed at stealing trade secrets from U.S. businesses.

Last fall, a U.S. House panel warned American companies against doing business with Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE for fear their equipment could be used for spying.

Vinson said Pactera’s clients regularly audit its work, and have their own rigorous security precautions. He added that the Chinese government does not own Pactera. The firm is publicly traded, listed on the NASDAQ exchange.

“That has nothing to do with Pactera,” he said, referring to Washington officials’ cyberspying concerns. “We’ve never been accused of it, and never had any problems with any of our clients related to security.”

Pactera reported net revenues of $359 million last year. Its stock closed Monday at $5.29, down 6 percent.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; Twitter: @ericfraz
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