After years of steady growth in its workforce, home loan lender Countrywide is planning a corporate expansion into Florida, the company said Thursday, with the purchase of two buildings in Tampa.

The financial services giant added nearly 20 percent to its workforce in 2004 and has continued at that pace this year, bringing its total headcount to about 50,000. Countrywide also plans to nearly double its employees over the next five years.

“In alignment with Countrywide’s ambitious strategies for continued rapid growth through this decade, we have initiated searches for new office locations in business-friendly states, and we are particularly excited to make Florida our newest corporate facility home,” said Patrick Benton, the company’s managing director of corporate real estate administration.

The company, through its primary subsidiary Countrywide Homes Loans, has purchased two buildings totaling more than 231,000 square feet situated on 15.2 acres of land near the Tampa International Airport. The buildings are located at 4909 and 4951 Savarese Circle in the Tampa West Industrial Park.

State and local tax incentives, including approval of the project by the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development for a Qualified Targeted Industry Tax Refund and the Hillsborough County Commission, were vital to Countrywide’s decision to purchase and open its first central office campus in the state, the company said.

“In addition to the government support of targeted business development in Florida, we were attracted to the proximity of these buildings to the airport, allowing for the convenient handling of documents that will come to this location from Countrywide offices around the country,” said Benton.

Countrywide expects to make a capital investment of $20 million to $25 million, including the purchase of the building “shells” and property for more than $15.9 million, plus additional costs to complete and equip the interiors.

Approximately 75 percent of the space will be dedicated to office uses, with the remaining space dedicated to records storage, an employee cafeteria, a fitness room and other functions.

Countrywide anticipates it will begin to occupy the campus in the first quarter of 2006, ultimately housing 900 to 1,000 members of its local workforce involved in its expanding mortgage origination, servicing and technology operations in the two buildings.

Countrywide is headquartered in Calabasas, Calif., and heavily invested in corporate office space in Southern California. For the past three years, however, the company has focused the expansion of its central office facilities in other states, citing California’s high-cost business climate as a major reason for looking elsewhere.

During that time, the company has announced significant acquisitions and developments in Texas, Arizona and now Florida.

While the Tampa location marks the company’s first purchase of a central office facility in Florida, Countrywide already leases more than 100 smaller Florida locations for mortgage production branches, related support operations and other financial services divisions. The company currently has more than 2,500 in its workforce throughout the state.


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