Leaving the city

Zurich insurance relocating offices to Owings Mills

April 10, 2009|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Insurance company Zurich American is moving its operations and hundreds of workers from Baltimore to an office complex in Owings Mills, company and city leaders said Thursday.

The Switzerland-based company put its two office buildings on Keswick Road in the Hampden neighborhood up for sale late last year, saying it was looking for smaller quarters.

The Baltimore buildings, which total about 462,000 square feet, have vacant space because the staff has been significantly reduced over the years, said spokesman Steve McKay. The offices once held as many as 1,200 people and had about 800 at the end of last year.

McKay said there would be further job eliminations once the move is completed because there will be less need for staff who handle insurance claims.

McKay did not disclose how many workers would lose their jobs. He said some of the work in Baltimore would be absorbed by Zurich's other U.S. offices.

"It is part of Zurich's overall real estate strategy in North America to enhance our competitive position, over time, by helping to reduce our fixed costs while improving operating efficiency," McKay said in an e-mail response to questions about the move.

The company, which acquired Maryland Casualty Insurance in 1989, expects to complete the move to the Red Brook Corporate Center by the fall.

The Baltimore Development Corporation and Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development offered Zurich $1.5 million in incentives to stay in Baltimore. Mayor Sheila Dixon also made personal calls to company officials to emphasize the benefits of staying in the city.

Baltimore County did not offer Zurich any incentives because its policy prohibits recruiting businesses from Baltimore City, said Donald I. Mohler III, the county's director of communications.

Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said Zurich narrowed its choices to two in Baltimore County and the Montgomery Park office complex in Southwest Baltimore.

Brodie said Zurich officials told him that they needed fewer workers as the company automated more of its functions.

Dixon and Brodie said that Zurich officials ultimately decided to move to Baltimore County because most of their workers live in the corridor of Interstates 795 and 695.

"They toured Montgomery Park at least once, maybe twice," Brodie said.

"They said it is a very nice development but not a convenient [location] for employees."

Dixon called the relocation a loss for the city.

"You're talking about [hundreds of jobs]," she said in a phone interview. "Any business of that magnitude is a loss."

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