Business

Civic officials celebrate State Farm’s budding relationship with Tacoma

It’s official. Everyone agrees. It’s a good thing State Farm moved to Tacoma.

City, state and federal officials met Monday evening at a reception hosted by the insurance giant in the downtown Tacoma headquarters it has occupied since last fall.

The claims call center is well on its way to having 1,200 employees in a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation serving customers nationwide.

Nothing remains of the former occupant, Russell Investments. The firm left Tacoma for Seattle in 2010 to occupy an office building that was formerly the headquarters of the defunct Washington Mutual.

Today, bright colors welcome employees at State Farm’s offices at 909 S. A St. Views open onto Commencement Bay, the Thea Foss Waterway, the Port of Tacoma and Mount Rainier.

“It’s going really well,” said Doug Smith, State Farm operations vice president. “We had a great response from the community.”

The A Street building manages insurance claims from customers across the country. The Tacoma operation is similar to others located in Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta.

Tacoma, Smith said, is impressive for its educated workforce gathered from universities and technical schools in Pierce County and from rotating Defense Department employees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Tacoma was waiting for this to happen,” Smith said.

Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, said State Farm has brought more workers downtown, full parking garages and more customers for local businesses.

He also said “it makes an immediate difference” when he makes recruiting calls to firms and businesses that might be considering a move to Tacoma.

State Farm, he said, “is a brand that everyone knows.”

In formal remarks, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said: “It’s been almost a year since State Farm arrived. There was a bit of a gaping hole in our heart. State Farm filled it.”

She also noted that State Farm brings “a corporate culture that fits with Tacoma.” She said the company has been generous in its support of local institutions including the Boys & Girls Club, Metropolitan Development Council and Pride Festival.

“We hope that 1,200 (employees) is just the beginning,” Strickland said.

“We believe that this is an awesome beginning,” answered Carolyn Lee, State Farm area vice president.

Lee said the company has 10 insurance agents in Tacoma and 354 in the state serving some 500,000 Washington households.

Since opening the four claims centers nationwide, Smith said staff have taken 3.8 million phone calls that concerned 2.7 million loss reports.

“We’re still growing,” he said.

Claims associate Jennifer Minich joined the company last December.

“I just feel we’re really lucky,” she said. “The operations center is a blessing in our community.”

She pointed to “the museums, the restaurants, you can see that the vibrancy is growing. You just can’t beat this area. The people are the nicest I’ve worked with.”

And then there’s that major amenity unavailable in Phoenix, Atlanta or pretty much anywhere else.

“Every time I eat lunch,” Minich said, “I get to look at the mountain.”

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