- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - An employee well-being company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson said Thursday it will expand its tiny Rhode Island branch into a major office and add nearly 300 new jobs there over the next five years.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Virgin Pulse’s president and chief operating officer, David Osborne, announced the expansion Thursday at the State House.

The state says the company is eligible for $2.5 million in tax credits if it creates the new jobs. The company is also asking for $3.2 million in tax credits to help it build an office in downtown Providence.

Virgin Pulse is based in Framingham, Massachusetts, and is part of Branson’s Virgin Group. Osborne said Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce will maintain his presence at the suburban office park in Framingham, about an hour’s drive from Providence, but the bulk of new hiring will be in Rhode Island. Osborne said Providence was chosen because of its universities and because it’s a vibrant city with lower costs than Boston or New York.

“It’s difficult to recruit in a suburb,” Osborne said. “Recruiting in a metropolitan town, it’s much easier to attract millennials. There’s not a plethora of colleges in Framingham, Massachusetts, as you can imagine.”

The company has had about 65 employees in Providence since February, when it acquired corporate wellness program startup ShapeUp Inc. in a push to create a stronger software platform for companies to promote employee health.

Rajiv Kumar, a physician who co-founded ShapeUp in 2006 and is now Virgin Pulse’s chief medical officer, has been a Rhode Island booster since graduating from Brown University and its medical school.

Kumar said Thursday that Raimondo pushed the company hard for the expansion and called it a “winning and repeatable formula for attracting new business.” It follows other economic development moves that Raimondo used state incentives to make happen this year, such as a new software office opened by General Electric’s GE Digital division and a planned tech innovation complex in Providence announced earlier this week.

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