Monday, May 22, 2017 This Week's Paper

State Farm Expansion To Fill Russell Building

State Farm has ended months of suspense by announcing late last week that the insurance firm has finalized two lease agreements for space in the former Russell Investment building and on four floors of the Columbia Bank Center in downtown Tacoma to open a claims center this fall.

“We are excited to welcome State Farm and look forward to their arrival,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland in a statement regarding the expansion news. “The presence of a Fortune 50 company adds to the increasing vitality of the downtown core. The city continues to invest in the community with its support of entrepreneurial and small business development, exciting mobility improvements like the Link Light Rail expansion and the Pacific Avenue Streetscape project. This is not just a downtown win. It’s a win for our entire community.”

Hiring the initial 300 employees is set to start this summer. Projections put full employment levels at about 1,200 people. That’s about the workforce size of its regional operations center in DuPont. Even more jobs could follow as the company expands its local operations. The rate of new hiring after the initial 300 will be based on market demand.

Already a presenting sponsor of LeMay: America’s Car Museum, State Farm will likely find itself sponsoring other local events and causes, given its track record in other communities.

“We take our social responsibility very seriously,” company spokesman Brad Hilliard said. “We want to support what our customers support.”

Noting the obvious affects a new corporate neighbor in Tacoma’s struggling downtown retail and commercial market, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said the news was further evidence that recovery from the “Great Recession” has taken root in the South Sound.

“Pierce County welcomes State Farm’s decision to open an Initial Loss Reporting center in downtown Tacoma. This follows Amazon’s recent decision to build in DuPont. In Frederickson, a company called FPS/EnCon is preparing to build the concrete rings that will line the new SR-99 tunnel in Seattle. Thousands of jobs are being added to our local economy, which continues to demonstrate that this is a great place to live, work and play,” she said in a statement. “Lots of people worked together to make these successes a reality, including property owners, local cities and the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. And they’re not done. We continue to work with them on other opportunities to attract great companies to the area.”

The move is already paying dividends for city coffers, with the City Council approving Tuesday a parking deal that will lease 800 parking permits at three city-owned garages downtown for State Farm workers during the next five years, adding $4.2 million to the city’s budget. The garages currently average only about half full, but the deal will boost that to about 80 percent of capacity.

Budget watchers know what that means. The deals end the $850,000 subsidy Tacoma’s General Fund provided to the city’s parking fund as well as wipes out about half of the parking system’s $5 million debt. The deals, negotiated by real estate broker Neil Walter Co. and a partnership that includes Illahie Holdings, which owns the former Russell building, come to about $60 per permit, which is slightly below market rate but fills stalls in under-used facilities and helps shore up the city’s parking fund.