CLAYTON — For decades, managed health care company Centene Corp. focused on scale. Now one of the largest in its industry, Centene is recalibrating for efficiency.
The shift in strategy brought an abrupt end this week to its plans for an East Coast headquarters in North Carolina, stunning local leaders there but pleasing Wall Street. With 90% of its workforce now fully or partly remote, the company has been quietly relinquishing most of its once expansive office footprint in St. Louis and across the country.
The company may not have had a choice: Investors wanted the company to cut costs and improve profit margins. With a new CEO at the helm, the company has been aggressively slimming its real estate portfolio across the country — moves that are likely to improve its bottom line but leave cities, like the St. Louis region, grappling with dozens of vacant office buildings.
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“Making sure that Centene delivers on its promises of margin expansion is something that investors take very seriously,” said Julie Utterback, senior equity analyst at Morningstar Research Services. “It sounds like this management team is taking that very seriously as well, which is appreciated.”
The East Coast campus wasn’t Centene’s only casualty. The company already said it was no longer going to finish its $770 million headquarters expansion in Clayton that would have added nearly 1 million square feet of office space, hundreds of apartments or condos, retail shops, a 1,000-seat civic auditorium and a hotel near South Hanley Road and Forsyth Boulevard.
And Centene has vacated nearly its entire real estate footprint here — approximately 1 million square feet of office space — according to marketing materials shopping those properties for lease or sublease:
• Roughly 300,000 square feet in Chesterfield.
• 180,000 square feet in Des Peres.
• 100,000 square feet in Richmond Heights.
• 100,000 square feet in Creve Coeur.
• More than 60,000 square feet in St. Louis city.
The company confirmed in a statement that it will vacate “several leased locations,” though it did not state which ones. The Centene spokesperson also said it will maintain its headquarters in Clayton, operations center in Ferguson and its Home State Health headquarters in St. Louis —…