Friday, April 1, 2011

Farmers Insurance enters area, opens training center

by Jeff Blumenthal

"Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Agency, the nation’s third-largest insurance agency group, has moved into the Philadelphia region by opening a training and recruiting center here, where it plans to hire 100 agents this year and 500 within the next five years that could lead to as many as 2,500 new jobs in southeastern Pennsylvania when each agent hires staff. There are also plans to open a training and recruiting center in Cherry Hill in December, where the agency has similar growth plans.

Farmers signed a seven-year lease for more than 26,000 square feet of space at the end of last year and then opened the operations center, which it calls Agency Point, in January. It is home to more than 40 managerial and administrative employees and will be the center of growth for it to recruit and train agents as well as market the company.

Trainees will work out of the space at 1000 Continental Drive for a year — which includes a week of training in Farmers’ California headquarters to learn about business ownership and company history — before opening their own storefronts in various locales in southeastern Pennsylvania. Farmers will most likely avoid Center City for expansion but said it plans to spread its wings in the suburbs.

Matthew Dudash, director of Agency Point in the new southeastern Pennsylvania office, said the plan will be to hire 100 agents per year over the next five years, with each agent hiring between two to five staff. That could mean up to 2,500 new jobs in the region with another operations center opening in Cherry Hill at the end of the year with similar growth plans for South Jersey.

Formed in 1928, Farmers is one of the largest auto and home insurers in the nation and also offers life insurance and specialty policies for boats, recreational vehicles and jet skis. Most of its business lies west of the Mississippi River and it considers Allstate, Nationwide and State Farm its chief rivals.

Allstate spokesman Brett Ludwig said competition is always good for the market.

Allstate has 231 agents in southeastern Pennsylvania and averages 1.7 staff per agency location. It also has a training center in its local headquarters in Malvern that employs about 500 administrative staff.

Pennsylvania is the first new state Farmers has entered in 20 years. Dudash said the region was selected as Farmers’ entry point into the East Coast because of the large population and what it perceived to be a strong business environment.

“The demographic is ideal,” Dudash said. “It’s an established community with growth opportunity.”

Farmers has similar expansion plans for North and South Jersey at the end of this year and New York and Baltimore next year.

Dudash has been with Farmers for 15 years in Los Angeles and Las Vegas but is a Lehigh Valley native. He said he tested the Agency Point concept for Farmers in Ohio a few years back and found the agents it produced have a high success rate. So the company adopted it as its distribution model.

Dudash said Farmers has recruited by way of career fairs, job boards and advertising and has generated a great deal of interest."

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