Banking

Charlotte mayor: MetLife an example of incentives’ success

Eric Steigerwalt, executive vice president of MetLife's U.S. retail division, announces that MetLife created more than 1,500 new jobs in Charlotte during a press conference Tuesday.
Eric Steigerwalt, executive vice president of MetLife's U.S. retail division, announces that MetLife created more than 1,500 new jobs in Charlotte during a press conference Tuesday. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

MetLife officials on Tuesday celebrated hiring more than 1,500 people since moving the company’s U.S. retail headquarters to Ballantyne, and Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said the company’s success shows the importance of incentives grants.

MetLife has received more than 145,000 applications for Charlotte jobs since it announced its move in 2013, said Eric Steigerwalt, executive vice president of the retail division. “This city has exceeded our expectations on all fronts,” he said.

MetLife also created a hub in Cary with another 1,300 jobs. The company is in line to receive incentive grants totaling $87.2 million over a 12-year period, which would be the largest grant ever awarded through the state’s Job Development Investment Grant program.

So far, MetLife is ahead of its targets, which called for creating 1,386 new jobs in Charlotte by the end of the year. Steigerwalt said the company hasn’t announced any further expansion plans in Charlotte, but said MetLife is committed to the city. He added, “Who knows?”

Clodfelter said MetLife’s rapid hiring shows incentives can work. The tax breaks the state uses to lure companies have drawn criticism, especially in the wake of Chiquita’s decision to leave Charlotte after the company was acquired by two Brazilian firms. Chiquita was lured to Charlotte with almost $22 million worth of state and local incentives, which the company has said it will repay.

“An awful lot of folks criticize government from time to time for our partnerships and our incentives,” said Clodfelter. But he said the benefits of getting a company such as MetLife to move to Charlotte outweigh the costs.

State legislators are wrestling over North Carolina’s incentives program, which is currently depleted. Republicans in the N.C. Senate are trying to pass a plan that would limit the incentives that could go to urban areas such as Charlotte and direct more to rural areas. Clodfelter criticized that approach, because he said a major corporate headquarters wouldn’t go to a rural area.

“It’s not a question of a tug-of-war within North Carolina,” said Clodfelter. “It’s a question of whether they’ll come to North Carolina at all.”

Mecklenburg County commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller predicted Charlotte will have more successes.

“If we keep doing this, watch out,” said Fuller. “We are a world-competitive city.”

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Twitter: @ESPortillo

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