Rocket Mortgage, the mortgage giant formerly known as Quicken Loans, is eyeing an expansion that would bring 700 new jobs to downtown Cleveland over the next five years.

The Detroit-based company already employs nearly 700 people at its Cleveland office, a mortgage banking hub tucked inside the Higbee Building just off Public Square. Local economic development officials have been working on an incentive package to double that headcount in a deal that would create more than $50 million in additional payroll and bring welcome investment to a central business district grappling with fallout from the pandemic.

Rocket’s top human resources executive confirmed the broad strokes of the company’s growth plans during a recent interview.

“This a testament to our commitment to Cleveland,” said Mike Malloy, whose formal title is chief amazement officer.

He said Rocket routinely weighs adding jobs in Cleveland against hiring in its hometown, bulking up a mortgage banking center in Phoenix and recruiting remote workers. Now, through what he described as a “partnership” with the city, Cleveland stands to notch more wins.

“The core of … the growth of any city is good-paying jobs that allow its citizens the opportunity for success,” Malloy said. “And the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio are very committed to that.”

The first piece of the incentive proposal will become public Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the form of legislation introduced at Cleveland City Council. The deal also hinges on potential aid from the state and JobsOhio, the statewide private, nonprofit economic development corporation.

Nobody involved in the negotiations would discuss the package in detail. The city did not make anyone available for an interview about the project and was unable to provide a prepared statement to Crain’s by deadline.

Cleveland’s economic development toolbox includes job-creation grants, typically equal to 0.5% of new payroll. The city recently offered Brecksville-based CrossCountry Mortgage such a grant, with a five-year term, for the company’s planned headquarters relocation to the eastern edge of downtown.

Kevin Kelley, council’s president, said it would be premature to discuss the Rocket legislation. But he had plenty to say about the prospect of landing hundreds of jobs.

“I’m very encouraged. I’m very enthused. … This is the kind of news we need during a pandemic and during a recession to kind of kick-start our recovery,” he said.

JobsOhio spokesman Matt Englehart confirmed that talks with the company are underway. Any assistance, he said, “will be made public after a final agreement is executed.”

Malloy said that Rocket has room for growth at the Higbee Building, where the company has been a tenant since 2016. Beyond the company’s current footprint, there’s 110,000 square feet of available space at the former department store, which now houses a casino and offices.

The property is controlled by Jack Entertainment, a spinoff from Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures family of companies — a group of businesses that also includes the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Conversations about Rocket’s expansion began with a chat, nearly a year ago, between Cavaliers CEO Len Komoroski and an executive from the Greater Cleveland Partnership. The discussions didn’t stop even as the pandemic sent thousands of office workers, including most of the lender’s downtown employees, home. And negotiations continued after Rocket Cos., the parent business, went public in August.

Deb Janik, GCP’s senior vice president of business growth and development, said she views the project as much more than a one-off transaction.

“It’s the relationship, the ongoing relationship with the company, that’s going to allow us to keep moving forward — and hopefully sustaining growth for a long, long time,” she said.

Rocket Cos. employs more than 22,000 people nationwide, the vast majority of them in Detroit. The flagship mortgage business, which has been phasing out the Quicken Loans name, closed on a record $89 billion in loans during the third quarter. Its Cleveland bankers handle transactions across the country.

“The type of jobs that we can garner are well-paying jobs, above the median wages for Cuyahoga County — mortgage bankers, primarily,” said Ed Chatmon, a GCP vice president of business growth and development. “So it’s also an opportunity to upskill and maybe attract some workforce or hire residents within the local communities.”

Striking an expansion deal with the nation’s largest mortgage lender is likely to help Northeast Ohio make pitches to other growing companies, said Walt Good, managing director of projects for Team NEO, a nonprofit economic development group that serves as JobsOhio’s regional affiliate.

“I don’t want to use hyperbole,” Good said, “but this is huge. Huge and very exciting. And I think the spinoff impact will also be very much felt.”

For downtown Cleveland, Rocket’s hiring spree would be one of its biggest victories since late 2011, when New York-based insurer AmTrust Financial Services Inc. disclosed its hopes of bringing 1,000 jobs to the struggling financial district.

Coupled with the Sherwin-Williams Co.’s plans to build a new headquarters just west of Public Square on long-languishing parking lots, the potential Rocket project shows that large employers still see the value of an office environment and a center-city address, said Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the nonprofit Downtown Cleveland Alliance.

“You’ve got major corporations investing in the city,” he said, “and that’s a great signal that we can leverage and build upon.”



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