PRA International, a Virginia-based provider of services to biotechnology companies, is moving its headquarters to Raleigh and bringing nearly 500 jobs to North Carolina.

The clinical development organization will receive up to $7.6 million in state tax incentives as part of a relocation package, Gov. Mike Easley announced Tuesday.

PRA (Nasdaq: PRAI), which is based in Reston, Va., said it would invest $2.89 million in its headquarters and create 494 jobs over the next four years. The average wage for the jobs is $75,000. The company employs 2,800 people worldwide.

Most of the jobs will be created in Raleigh, but the company also plans to employ people in Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties, according to Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

PRA expects the headquarters to be in place by the end of this year. Fewer than 40 people work at the firm’s current headquarters, and they will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Raleigh, PRA said in a statement.

"After conducting a comprehensive analysis, we have determined that relocating to the Raleigh area will allow PRA to tap into a stronger market for operational resources, place us in closer proximity to existing and potential new clients, provide ready access to a highly qualified talent pool and reduce our infrastructure costs,” PRA Chief Executive Officer Terrance Bieker said in a statement.

“To fuel our planned growth, we expect to begin aggressive hiring in October and hope to attract 500 administrative and operations employees over the next five years,” he added. “North Carolina has one of the fastest growing workforces in the United States and we are pleased to take advantage of the low employee turnover rate and the quality of life. We believe this move to Raleigh will position us well to achieve our future growth targets."

North Carolina has the third largest biotechnology and life science clusters in the U.S., according to a variety of surveys. The state’s 400 biotech companies was one of the reasons PRA cited for moving its headquarters to Raleigh.

“The addition of PRA to North Carolina’s list of prominent research organizations that provide drug development services continues our state’s leadership in this field,” Easley said in a statement. “Companies in the pharmaceutical, biotech and healthcare industries know that they find the knowledge, talent and skill in North Carolina they need to succeed in the global economy.”

PRA provides clinical trials for drug development companies, emphasizing oncology, central nervous system, allergies, respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease.

“With over 40 biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the greater Raleigh area, PRA will have greater access to a highly qualified talent pool and be closer to its existing and potential customers,” Beiker explained further in a statement released by Easley’s office. “The business climate and quality of life offered by North Carolina should allow the company to reduce corporate infrastructure costs and ensure a highly efficient, qualified and satisfied workforce.”

Also participating in the recruitment process along with the governor’s office were
the N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Community College System, Raleigh Economic Development, Wake County Economic Development and Progress Energy.

PRA will receive incentives through a job development grant. For each year the company meets job creation targets it will receive a 60 percent grant on state income taxes paid to employees.

The Department of Commerce estimated that the cumulative economic impact of the PRA relocation at $422 million.

PRA also will pay $2.52 million to the state’s Industrial Development Fund since it chose to locate in an urban county.