About 3,000 students attend classes at Southern New Hampshire University’s main campus in Manchester.

A New Hampshire-based college with a large online enrollment plans to open a new operations center in downtown Tucson in early 2020 that will eventually employ up to 350 people.

Southern New Hampshire University says the new operations center will help support its growing student body across the country.

SNHU has more than 130,000 mostly online students worldwide and offers more than 300 accredited undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs.

The center, which will employ about 100 people initially and up to 350 by 2021, will house student-support staff workers, including those involved in academic advising, student financial services, admissions and computer support.

SNHU is finalizing a lease at a downtown location expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

SNHU President and CEO Paul LeBlanc said Tucson won out over several other cities as the school searched for a new support center to better serve thousands of students in the West.

LeBlanc said the university has no plans to move its headquarters from its 300-acre campus in Manchester, New Hampshire, where about 3,000 students attend classes.

After a nationwide search, SNHU narrowed locations for an operations center down to six potential sites and eventually chose Tucson for its welcoming atmosphere and close fit with the school’s culture, LeBlanc said.

Sun Corridor Inc., the local economic-development agency, courted the school with help from the Arizona Commerce Authority, the city of Tucson, Pima County, and the Rio Nuevo downtown development district.

“We looked at quite a long list of cities, and Tucson really rose to the top. It had a lot of key things like a well-educated population,” LeBlanc said. “We love the downtown location, the energy, but also sort of the sense of tradition. Tucson has a real sense of grounding in its history that we really found attractive.”

Some “trial-balloon” job advertising convinced LeBlanc there would be keen interest in the range of jobs SNHU is offering, while the school has had trouble filling about 200 jobs in Manchester, he said.

The availability of a large pool of bilingual workers also was important as SNHU increasingly markets to a Latino audience, LeBlanc said.

Tucson’s sunny weather didn’t hurt, either, LeBlanc said, noting that the school held a leadership retreat here in January — when the monthly average high temperature in Manchester is 33 degrees.

“To a bunch of New Englanders who have a lot of winter, you’re pretty appealing,” LeBlanc said. “I think a lot people, including myself, are going to be scheming on how were going to spend some of our winter months working out of the Tucson office.”

LeBlanc said local civic and business leaders made the university feel welcome.

The new operations center is expected to have an economic impact of the $218 million over the next five years, Sun Corridor estimated.

As a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, SNHU isn’t in line for any tax-based incentives for expanding in Tucson, LeBlanc noted.

But the Rio Nuevo board has approved $650,000 in parking subsidies for SNHU over five years, provided the school hits its hiring goals, said Fletcher McCusker, board chairman of Rio Nuevo.

“We continue to see great employer interest in our evolving downtown and Rio Nuevo is eager to help,” McCusker said. “With downtown employment up, we are seeing increased housing starts, all signs of a sustainable urban core.”

Sun Corridor CEO Joe Snell said Tucson Electric Power, Visit Tucson, Picor and Mark Irvin Commercial Real Estate Services also were key contributors to the eight-month effort to lure SNHU to Tucson.

“We’re thrilled to come out on top of a highly competitive process,” Snell said. “For me, that’s more validation that we have the right team and the right asset base to compete against anybody.”

LeBlanc said some employees from Manchester will move to Tucson, but most of the positions will be new hires, adding that the company plans to hold job fairs to attract talent.

Open positions for the new Tucson center will be posted this spring at snhu.edu/about-us/employment

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner

Senior reporter covering business and technology for the Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com