State Farm Plans New Operations Center in Georgia

State Farm, one of the nation’s largest insurance companies, said Friday it will hire about 500 customer service workers at a new operations center near Perimeter Mall in Georgia.

The employees will handle sales, services and claims for policyholders, company spokesman Justin Tomczak said. The 400,000 square foot office, divided between 64 and 66 Perimeter Center East, will open by year’s end.

State Farm adds to the region’s list of major job announcements during the last year, as the economy struggles to gain its post-recessionary footing. Caterpillar announced last February the hiring of 1,400 employees for a factory near Athens. Baxter International, a maker of vaccines and medical devices, said two months later it will add 1,500 workers in Covington.

“Obviously, three years into this economic recovery we still have a very soft labor market in Atlanta and nationwide,” said Roger Tutterow, an economics professor at Mercer University. “So we readily welcome 500 jobs in any capacity.”

State Farm’s foray into Dunwoody, and one of the buildings that once housed electronics giant Philips, continues an expansionary trend in Atlanta for the Illinois-based insurance giant. Last October, the company announced the addition of as many as 400 white-collar jobs to its Johns Creek regional headquarters campus. The jobs were largely consolidated from other State Farm locations, Tomczak  said.

Four months later, the insurer said it would hire another 150 workers statewide, with most landing in Johns Creek. In all, State Farm employs 2,000 people across Georgia, not counting independent insurance agents who sell policies.

“This expansion is just another way State Farm continues to adjust to meet the changing needs and preferences of our customers,” said State Farm Senior Vice President Tim McFadden.

The jobs include a mix of clerical, technical and management positions. The office workers will provide quotes to potential new customers, assist clients with post-claim needs and handle after-hours calls. Tomczak couldn’t provide a salary range Friday.

While major manufacturers like Caterpillar garner the big headlines, State Farm-type jobs fuel Atlanta’s economy. The financial, professional and business service industries account for about one-fifth of Atlanta’s 2.3 million jobs and have added roughly 11,000 positions during the last year.

The region has been adding customer care jobs too. More than a dozen call centers have sprouted across metro Atlanta the last four years. Atlanta ranks No. 5 nationally with upwards of 105,000 customer care, corporate solution or telemarketing jobs, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

These jobs, though, typically don’t pay well. Still, any jobs help mitigate the region’s 8.5 percent unemployment rate.

“While we may pursue economic-development strategies that are focused toward attracting higher paid employers, at this point any type of job creation is a boost for the local economy,” said Tutterow, the economist.

State economic development officials were caught unaware Friday afternoon by State Farm’s announcement which came from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office. Spokeswoman Alison Tyrer said the agency “did not have any information available about possible incentives.”

State Farm – the state’s largest insurer – ranked No. 37 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies last year. The Bloomington, Ill.-based company notched $63.2 billion in revenues in 2011. State Farm and its affiliates provide more car insurance in the United States than any other insurer.