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MetLife touts Charlotte hiring progress, new retail hub in Ballantyne

By Deon Roberts
deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

MetLife is more than halfway toward its goal of creating 1,300 jobs in Charlotte, the company said Thursday as it held its first media tours of its new retail hub in Ballantyne.

The largest life insurer in the U.S. said it has filled more than 900 jobs, of which approximately 700 have gone to local residents, since hiring began last year. Those employees are working in two new Ballantyne Corporate Park buildings whose interiors MetLife officials said are a new move for the company.

Employees sit in groups at workstations, instead of cubicles, that allow them to see co-workers seated next to and across from them.

Each floor in the Gragg and Woodward buildings has multiple meeting areas, which include traditional conference rooms as well as informal places to meet, such as a group of cushions in the middle of the floor.

Breast-feeding mothers have access to nursing rooms. Employees are encouraged to write ideas on the walls.

MetLife officials said its new workspaces in Charlotte represent the first time the company has designed space specifically to foster collaboration among employees. Since then, the company has built other workspaces similar to those in Charlotte, said Pamela Oshokenoya Abalu-Broadwater, the New York-based global head of design and construction for MetLife.

“This is the future of MetLife workspace,” she said. “It’s not just about coming in and sitting at your desk. It’s about the whole building being a workplace.”

The reason for so many meeting spaces – the Charlotte campus has 88 conference rooms – is to encourage the collaboration the company is seeking, she said. “The point is to have impromptu meetings that could lead to innovation.”

Last year, the company announced plans to open the retail hub in Charlotte, consolidating its U.S. retail operations. In December, the company said it had hired 640 people for the hub, surpassing its intent to create 500 jobs by the end of 2013.

The Charlotte hub is expected to employ 1,300, for an average salary of $58,000, by a 2015 target. In a December interview, Eric Steigerwalt, head of the company’s U.S. retail operation, said the roughly 30 percent of employees relocated to Charlotte include those in senior-level positions, subject matter experts and managers.

The company will occupy the entire Gragg Building and part of the Woodward Building, both built by the Bissell Cos.

MetLife is also planning to create at least 1,200 jobs at its new global technology and operations hub in Cary.

The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have approved roughly $3 million in incentives for the company. Under its state incentives, the company could receive benefits of up to $87.2 million over 12 years. The state incentives require the company to create at least 2,098 jobs in North Carolina by Dec. 31, 2015.

A ribbon-cutting for the Charlotte hub is set for next week. Gov. Pat McCrory is among the expected attendees.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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