USF&G selects Tampa for site State-of-the-art claims center to hire up to 500 employees

January 17, 1996|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

USF&G Corp. said yesterday it will open a national claims reception center in Tampa, Fla., that initially will employ 185 people, and up to 500 in future years.

The giant Baltimore-based property and casualty insurer will spend $18 million in start-up costs for the center over two years and more than $10 million in new technology, said Jay Erbe, USF&G's vice president of administration.

The center, slated to open in September, will provide a nationwide toll-free telephone claim reporting service to customers and agents that will be open seven days a week, 24-hours a day.

"When people need us, we've got to be there," said Ken Cihiy, USF&G's senior vice president of claims. "We are really going to be set up to handle claims 24 hours a day. We are staffing it in such a way that many of the claims will be resolved in that first call."

About a year ago, as they began to consider a state-of-the-art claims center, USF&G officials analyzed a data base of 400 cities and chose Baltimore, Tampa, Tulsa, Okla., and Tallahassee, Fla., as potential sites.

Tampa beat the pack because of the city's large, "high-quality" work force, low cost of living, and close relationship between government and the business community, USF&G officials said.

"I've never seen an area where the business community was so united, where they focused on helping new businesses, where they coordinated with the local and state government," Mr. Cihiy said. "They are very coordinated, they are very cooperative."

Baltimore was knocked out because the competition was too stiff. Tampa, for example, offered a customized training program for new employees and assistance in recruiting, Mr. Erbe said.

"That was just a very pro-active, get-it-done attitude that we saw demonstrated from the state and local government," Mr. Erbe said.

USF&G has received approval for up to $1.7 million in tax refunds through an industry tax refund program administered by the state of Florida.

In addition, the company received about $279,000 from the state to assist in training new employees, and another $176,000 from the Florida Economic Development Committee for road improvements to an office complex it expects to occupy.

"This is another great example on how if we work together Florida can compete for high-paying, high-valued added jobs," said Charles Dusseau, Florida's commerce secretary.

He said the state made a "special effort" to put together a financial package that would attract USF&G, because unemployment in Tampa has been rising.

"We wanted to do everything we could for the Tampa area to offset some of the negative news we have had," Mr. Dusseau said.

James T. Brady, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said he was disappointed with USF&G's decision, but understands it.

"It says to me we need to do things better here," Mr. Brady said. "My desire now is to make sure we can be of assistance to them as they go through what is an extraordinary turnaround."

USF&G officials said 50 employees will relocate to Tampa. Fewer than 20 are from the Baltimore headquarters office and no one from USF&G's executive management team will move, Mr. Erbe said.

About 1,300 employees working in 82 USF&G full-service branches and smaller "sub" offices will be affected by the new operations center. Those employees process claims, set up medical exams and locate witnesses. Many of those duties will be done at the Tampa office, the company said.

Mr. Erbe said he doesn't know whether anyone in the branch offices will be fired. About 900 branch employees will remain in their current jobs, but others can apply for jobs in the Tampa office or be retrained.

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