Raleigh, N.C. — Before North Carolina could celebrate landing MetLife and more than 2,600 jobs the company has pledged to bring to the Triangle and Charlotte, state officials and lawyers for the company exchanged tense words over the deal, documents obtained from a public records request show.
Details contained in roughly 5,000 pages of documents released in response to a public records request by WRAL News confirm much of what has already been reported about the deal, which involved $94.2 million in state-funded incentives. Additional grants by Wake County, Cary and Charlotte-area municipalities put the total of publicly funded grants around $100 million.
Missouri, specifically St. Louis County, was North Carolina's main competitor for the deal. Efforts to woo the company were under way by mid-2012, with Gov. Bev Perdue's administration showing company officials around the state and arranging for meetings with university officials and other major companies.
Among the new insights contained in the Commerce Department documents, which includes both correspondence between state officials and submissions by the company, is that Durham County was prepared to offer an incentives deal worth roughly $2,000 per job, a grant that economic developers estimated would have been worth about $2 million. That's roughly the same deal that Wake County offered.
Casey Steinbacher, president and chief executive of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said the county would have loved to get the property-tax bump from the new company. But bringing MetLife anywhere in the Triangle would benefit her county because Durham residents would work there and local companies would provide services to the insurance giant.
"Each one of us gets a percentage of the benefit from every deal, no matter who gets it," Steinbacher said.
It's not clear from the public records how seriously Durham was considered as a location. However, it is clear that the Wake County Board of Commissioners surprised some by its willingness to participate in the deal with incentives.
In a Dec. 12, 2012, email, David Spratley with the state Department of Commerce writes to a colleague, "Put your down coat on because hell may freeze over very soon. It seems that Wake County is going to play – significantly.”
Told of that comment, Ken Atkins, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, laughed. The chamber is the lead business recruiter for the area, and requests for county incentives typically flow through Atkins.
"That's probably indicative of the fact I have said 'no' so many times," he said.
Wake County, Atkins said, has a strict incentives policy that requires both a large amount of capital investment as well as a commitment to hire a sizable number of workers. He said the chamber typically won't bring Wake County deals that don't meet established guidelines.
"There are a lot of projects that don't meet the thresholds," he said.
The county adjusted its incentives policy to offer a deal to MetLife. In particular, the county lowered the required amount of capital investment if the company would commit to hiring more workers at higher wages. The average wage of the workers at the Cary MetLife facility will be around $100,000, more than twice the county average.
"Initially, it was assumed that Wake County wouldn't be able to offer incentives because the project didn't meet established thresholds for investment," Commerce Department spokesman Josh Ellis said Monday afternoon.
He went on to note, that "Wake County was among several local governments that played a key role in landing this transformational project."
Tense words exchanged
Among the players working to negotiate the MetLife deal was Moore and Van Allen, a Charlotte area law firm. Until he took office, Gov. Pat McCrory worked for the firm, but he said he had no involvement in the deal until shortly before it became public. Nothing in the emails released Monday contradict that statement.
Mike Delaney, a lawyer with the firm, and Karen West, the Commerce Department's general counsel, clashed over the wording in the legal documents drawn up to seal the deal.
Most of the back and forth centered over a "project agreement" between the state and the company. Such agreements outline all the commitments by various parties, including local governments and state educational institutions.
West wrote that drafts of the agreement by Delaney "do not conform to North Carolina legal requirements."
In particular, West wrote to Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker that the company was asking for assurances that it would win incentives grants if it took the time to apply.
"Our understanding was that they wanted something before going through the formal application and approval process, which is simply not possible," West wrote, explaining that was beyond the powers of the governor to do.
In another email exchange, Delaney complains that West did not provide the project agreement in a format in which it could be edited.
"There are five other signatories to the agreement, and some have comments necessitating change to their component of the agreement," Delaney writes.
West shoots back that Delaney himself has been sending versions of the agreement at the "11th hour" that weren't intended to be revised.
"You're probably seeing the result of two tired lawyers talking to each other at the end of a long negotiation," Delaney said of the exchange.
As late as mid-February, Commerce Department officials described the MetLife application as "a nightmare" and not ready for approval by key government leaders. In addition to demands for assurances that the company's application would be successful, department officials complained that those representing MetLife were slow to provide figures that would allow the state to verify the project qualified for incentives.
It's unclear, however, why the project agreement was the subject of such consternation. West in emails and Delaney over the phone acknowledge that it was a matter of convenience for the company and not the part of the arrangement that was legally binding.
As Ellis said in response to a request for clarification on Monday, "From the state’s perspective, the project agreement is not where the incentives were negotiated; it merely reflects the terms of the (grants) that were negotiated."