North Carolina Economic Development Guide

2014

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CASE STUDY FINDING THE ANSWERS Going undercover, MetLife discovers that North Carolina is twice as nice. B Y D . L AW R E N C E B I V I N S E conomic developers escorted the group into the office "then turned around and left the room," says Kevin Holland, senior vice president and chief people officer at Charlotte-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. He and his co-workers met for 90 minutes with the visitors, trading questions and answers. Each addressed business in North Carolina and what brought the produce company here. "They also wanted to know if there had been any surprises." One piece of information was not discussed. Because of the strict confidentiality of the search, the visitors' employer was never named. Chiquita, which sells produce in 70 countries, announced in November 2011 that it was moving its headquarters and about 150 jobs from Cincinnati to Charlotte. It hung its shingle over more than 130,000 square feet in the NASCAR Plaza building downtown. "Cincy was a good home for the company for a long time," Holland says. But that changed after Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. merged with Northwest Airlines Corp. in 2008, cutting daily flights at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. "Given that we are a global company, that made it very difficult." In contrast, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is adding flights, especially to Europe, where Chiquita has offices, and Central and South America, where much of its product is grown. Chiquita's due diligence included health care, education, cost of living, taxes and quality of life. The mild climate and recreational amenities such as bike paths and jogging trails were noted. "We're a healthy-foods company and encourage a healthy lifestyle for our employees. Part of that is getting outside and being active." David Swenson, senior vice president of economic-development services at the Charlotte Regional Partnership, and Kati Hynes, vice president of economic development at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, spent the latter part of 2012 lining up similar appointments with other Cary Charlotte Challenge: Executives want to know that the specific needs of their company will be met before it moves operations here. Solution: Economic developers in Charlotte and Raleigh introduced New York-based MetLife Inc.'s site-search team to leaders of several North Carolina companies. They discussed many topics, from housing to workforce, and apparently were impressed: Soon after, the insurer announced it was moving 2,600 jobs to Charlotte and the Triangle. N ORT H C A R OL I N A E CON OMI C D E V E LO P M E N T GU I D E 19

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