Business

LendingTree to nearly double its Charlotte presence, receive $4.9M in incentives

State Commerce Secretary John Skvarla gives a wooden bowl to LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda after company announced 314 new jobs.
State Commerce Secretary John Skvarla gives a wooden bowl to LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda after company announced 314 new jobs. kperalta@charlotteobserver.com

LendingTree, the online service that matches borrowers with lenders, will more than double its Charlotte presence over the next five years, bringing on hundreds of high-paying jobs.

The company will be adding 314 workers in its hometown thanks to a $4.9 million incentives package from the state, N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla said Wednesday morning at the Charlotte Chamber.

The average salary of the new jobs will be almost $82,000. The new positions will include engineers, online marketers, designers and corporate functions, CEO Doug Lebda said.

As part of the expansion, LendingTree will be renovating 136,812 square feet of two buildings in SouthPark, the firm said. LendingTree currently has its headquarters in Ballantyne, where it employed 287 people as of October.

At the announcement, Skvarla said it’s clear why LendingTree is expanding in North Carolina, noting the state employs 250,000 in information technology.

“We have the best environment as a place to live, we have the best environment from a tax perspective, we have the best environment from a regulatory environment. We are customer-centric, and we are customer-friendly,” Skvarla said.

The positive news Wednesday contrasts with recent job hits to the state due to business concerns over House Bill 2, which limits protections for LGBT individuals. Payments firm PayPal in April canceled a 400-job expansion in Charlotte over the law, and last week real estate research firm CoStar Group said it was locating 732 jobs in Richmond, Va., after looking at Charlotte. Local real estate sources said CoStar’s board decided against Charlotte because of HB2.

Asked whether HB2 affected the firm’s expansion plans, LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda said the company tries to “stay out of politics” as much as possible. He said the controversial measure hasn’t impacted recruiting efforts locally.

“This was really about recruiting great talent to Charlotte. The great news is, regardless of what is happening in the political scene, we’ve seen that we can literally bring people here from anywhere in the world,” Lebda said.

Lebda founded LendingTree in Charlotte in 1996 when dot-com Internet companies were soaring to prominence. The company eventually went public and expanded rapidly during the U.S. housing boom in the 2000s. But after the housing crash, it downsized through multiple rounds of layoffs.

According to securities filings, the company had 900 employees in 2010, but that number fell as low as 174 in 2012 after the company sold its mortgage lending business to Discover Financial Services. It now has a total of 370 workers, the company said.

“North Carolina’s business environment and talent pool continue to improve considerably,” Lebda said at the Chamber announcement.

LendingTree posted a profit of $48 million in 2015, up from $9.3 million in the previous year. Last week, it reported third-quarter earnings of $6.6 million, or 52 cents per share, which fell short of analyst estimates. Its shares are down more than 9 percent this year, closing Wednesday at $80.80.

At the Chamber, Skvarla presented Lebda with a wooden bowl to commemorate the jobs announcement. The governor gave a similar present to a PayPal executive in March, but the state asked for it back after the company pulled the plug on its expansion, the commerce secretary told the Observer last week.

“Thanks to some reporting work in Charlotte, they have become infinitely more valuable,” Skvarla said of the bowls.

Gov. Pat McCrory once served as a director of Tree.com, the former name of LendingTree’s parent company. The state ethics commission last year dismissed a complaint filed by a liberal advocacy group over his past ties to the company. The governor at the time said he had been vindicated in the face of a politically motivated “smear campaign.”

Staff writer Rick Rothacker contributed

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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