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RALEIGH: Sonic Automotive (NYSE: SAH) will open a marketing resource and customer contact center in Gaston County, creating 500 jobs, Governor Roy Cooper announced today. The company, a Fortune 500 company and one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States, will make an $11.2 million investment in Lowell to establish the center.

“Fortune 500 companies like Sonic have many choices when searching for a new location,” said Governor Cooper. “I’m pleased that North Carolina’s strengths—including our outstanding workforce and commitment to workforce training—are paying off once again.”

Sonic Automotive, with corporate headquarters in Charlotte, operates more than 100 new vehicle sales franchises in 13 states and eight EchoPark used vehicle sales operations. The new facility will be a national call center, supporting the company’s sales operations across the United States. The center will provide Sonic new capability to handle an increased volume of customer inquiries due to the evolving nature of online selling and customer expectations. The center will become a central location to facilitate communication between customers and the company’s network of dealerships.

“North Carolina remains our home,” said David B. Smith, CEO of Sonic Automotive. “We are excited to expand our marketing and contact center operations for Sonic Automotive and EchoPark Automotive into Gaston County and appreciate the support we’ve received from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, City of Lowell and Gaston County for these expansion efforts.”

 “Companies that know North Carolina well continue to expand in our state,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland. “Sonic Automotive’ s decision is the latest vote of confidence in North Carolina’s strengths as a business location.”

The North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. (EDPNC) led the state’s support for the company’s expansion.

Sonic Automotive will add a variety of positions with this expansion, including support agents, managers, and marketing personnel. Salaries for the new positions will average $53,219, above the current Gaston County average wage of $38,780.

Sonic Automotive’ s expansion in Gaston County will be facilitated, in part, by a Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) approved by the state’s Economic Investment Committee earlier today. Over the course of the 12-year term of this grant, the project will grow the state’s economy by an estimated $518 million. Using a formula that takes into account the new tax revenues generated by the new jobs, the JDIG agreement authorizes the potential reimbursement to the company of up to $6,797,700, spread over 12 years. State payments only occur following performance verification by the departments of Commerce and Revenue that the company has met its incremental job creation and investment targets. JDIG projects result in positive net tax revenue to the state treasury, even after taking into consideration the grant’s reimbursement payments to a given company.

Because Sonic chose to locate in Gaston County, classified by the state’s economic tier system as Tier 2, the company’s JDIG agreement also calls for moving as much as $755,000 into the state’s Industrial Development Fund – Utility Account. The Utility Account helps rural communities finance necessary infrastructure upgrades to attract future business. Even when new jobs are created in a Tier 2 county such as Gaston, the new tax revenue generated through JDIG grants helps more economically challenged communities elsewhere in the state. More information on the state’s economic tier designations is available here.

“Gaston County and the Charlotte region is enjoying great momentum in economic development,” said N.C. Senator Kathy Harrington. “We offer a strong business environment that helps companies like Sonic Automotive achieve their goals and grow their companies.”

“Sonic Automotive provides good jobs to people in our region,” said N.C. Representative John Torbett. “We welcome these new jobs that are now coming to Lowell and all of us stand ready to help the company succeed here.”

Partnering with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the EDPNC on this project were the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Community College System, Gaston County, the Town of Lowell, and the Gaston County Economic Development Commission.