La. keeps Smoothie King

Smoothie King will keep its headquarters in south Louisiana and grow its corporate workforce here as it expands its presence to hundreds of new markets across the country and around the globe during the next five years, officials said on Tuesday.

The company, founded here in 1973, considered moving out of state after Wan Kim, a South Korean businessman, purchased it in July.

Kim, however, decided to move the operations from Covington to Metairie instead. That move will be completed by the end of the second quarter in 2013.

Smoothie King will retain all 45 existing headquarters employees and, during the next half-decade, will add 60 new direct jobs that pay an average salary of $75,000. State officials said they estimate the retention and expansion project will result in an additional 78 new indirect jobs.

Jefferson Parish President John Young said the parish will do what it can to ensure the company remains.

“We’ll all be here … to do what we can to make you the Starbucks of smoothies,” he said.

Kim bought Smoothie King Franchises Inc. from co-founders Steve and Cindy Kuhnau through his SK USA Inc. firm.

A South Korea native, Kim learned about the company while he was a graduate student at Boston University. He later became a franchisee and opened more than 100 stores in his home country.

He said he plans to open locations in Singapore, Shanghai and Taiwan during the coming months and plans to explore growth in India. Kim said the goal is to open more than 1,000 locations around the world during the next five years. The company has more than 600 franchises today in 32 states, the Caymans and the Republic of Korea.

Kim, who said he’ll move his family to the area, spoke of his admiration for New Orleans, and said he is proud to keep the headquarters in the metro area and wants to make sure customers know where the home base is.

“From now on, we don’t want to be shy telling other people we are from New Orleans. This is who we are, this is what we do,” Kim said. “Let’s let the world know we are from New Orleans.”

Kim and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who helped make the announcement, credited GNO Inc. and the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission with persuading the company to stay in the region.

Louisiana Economic Development, a state agency, will provide Smoothie King with a $2.4 million, performance-based grant payable during the course of five years. The incentive will offset lease payments and office improvements at Smoothie King’s future headquarters office and offsets flight differential costs for New Orleans versus other markets.

Jindal said that while the state welcomes new companies, most economic growth will come from existing companies and said the state must work to ensure those businesses remain.

“For too many years in Louisiana we have seen our jobs, our sons, our daughters go to other states,” Jindal said. “We’re here today to celebrate yet another retention win for Louisiana.”

He said that Louisiana leads the South in economic recovery with more jobs today than it had when the recession began and that for the past four years, more people have come to the state than have left.

“We’re not done here yet. We’ve made great progress despite the national recession … but we’re not done until every one of our people can find a great-paying job in this great state,” Jindal said. “We want all of our sons and daughters to be able to pursue their dreams right here in Louisiana. That’s why we are so excited about today’s announcement.”