Louisiana tries to woo State Farm centers

Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

State officials in Louisiana have offered State Farm Insurance a $33 million incentive package that they hope will bring the company’s newly consolidated operations centers to Monroe, La.

State Farm plans to announce the results of an internal review of its three Central Zone operations centers in the next few weeks. The results could affect the company’s Columbia operations center, which employs about 785 people.

State Farm among top Columbia employers

Dwight D. Vines, economic development officer for the city of Monroe, La., said that State Farm is important to Monroe’s local economy but that the company’s significance goes beyond that.

“State Farm represents about 3 percent of our jobs, but really, it’s bigger than that because those are some of our higher-paying jobs,” Vines said. “Also, State Farm employees are good to have because they tend to be more active in the community than others.”

State Farm is Columbia’s 10th-largest employer, and Bernie Andrews, president of Regional Economic Development Inc., said the company is important to the city’s economy. But he said that in keeping with the city’s policy, Columbia has not officially offered State Farm any kind of incentive package.

Andrews said Columbia’s schools and business climate are so good that incentives are not necessary to attract and keep businesses. Besides, he added, State Farm has told city officials that incentives will not be a factor in how it consolidates its Central Zone operations centers.

Andrews acknowledges that REDI does have a proposal in the works to offer some incentives, but that they would not be used to retain businesses that threaten to leave. An existing Columbia company would have to expand and make a capital investment of $7.5 million to qualify, while a new company would have to make an investment of $15 million. Right now, Andrews said, State Farm does not meet those criteria.

“If State Farm was to stay and expand, they could potentially be affected,” Andrews said.

Consolidation may spark job redistribution

Gary Stephenson, a State Farm spokesman, said the consolidation probably will result in some reduction and redistribution of jobs at its operations centers in Monroe, Columbia and Tulsa, Okla. Stephenson said the company’s decision will be made with the best interests of its customers in mind.

“We did not seek incentive competition,” he said. “We felt our decision should be based on internal, not external factors.”

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