July 25, 2006
By DIANE LEVICK, Courant Staff Writer
In a boon to the Insurance City, The St. Paul Travelers Cos. plans to add about 500 jobs in Hartford and more than 100 others in Windsor, and is launching a major office renovation and expansion project to house the growing workforce.
With business and profits growing, the insurer is expected to add the jobs over the next two years and to put some employees in a sixth downtown location - the landmark Gold Building at One Financial Plaza.
The Connecticut Development Authority approved $2 million in state sales tax relief last week on materials and equipment that Travelers will need for its expansion and renovation program.
The authority estimated the program will cost Travelers $66.6 million, though the company would only say Monday that it expects to spend "tens of millions of dollars." The tax relief was granted in return for the pledge of jobs, which will be created here and not moved from Travelers' offices in other states.
Travelers already has more than 6,300 employees in Connecticut - 6,100 of them in downtown Hartford - and company spokeswoman Marlene Ibsen said the new jobs in Hartford will be largely "professional-level, solid, good-paying jobs." Many will be management level.
Ibsen said the wide range of new local jobs will include claims handling, information technology projects, underwriting and actuarial positions.
Travelers' job growth may help support some of the new upscale housing development in Hartford and adds momentum to the reinvigoration of the city's renowned insurance industry.
"When things are bad in the industry, they're really bad, but when things are great, they're really great," said Barbara Fernandez, director of the state's new Insurance and Financial Services Business Development Office. "This industry is getting its wind back."
Lincoln National Corp. said recently it will cut 75 Hartford jobs this year, and CIGNA has eliminated a few hundred Connecticut positions this year. But other insurers, including Aetna and The Hartford Financial Services Group, have been increasing - at least modestly - their Connecticut workforces.
Travelers chose Hartford for the new jobs because most of its core insurance operations are based here and Connecticut has a good-quality labor pool, Ibsen said.
"We have a long history here," Ibsen said. "We have a great relationship with the state of Connecticut. We've got a strong commitment to the city of Hartford, and we think it makes sense for our business."
The creation of jobs is welcome in Hartford after an undisclosed number of layoffs that resulted from Travelers' April 2004 merger with The St. Paul Cos.
The companies had a combined workforce of 5,909 people in Connecticut before the merger and promised to have at least that many two years after the merger. The workforce has grown about a net 400 jobs since then, despite layoffs that included about 100 information technology employees earlier this year.
The company had said in January it planned to add 1,000 jobs nationwide this year, but didn't say how many would be in Hartford.
Travelers, a property-casualty insurer that covers homes, cars and businesses, has been doing well and adding customers. The company reported in May an 18 percent jump in first-quarter operating profits, a higher earnings forecast for 2006 and a dividend increase for shareholders.
Travelers' expansion project includes the previously reported claims-training and handling center at 99 Lamberton Road in Windsor. The company leased more than 110,000 square feet there to create a "claim university," which will bring in adjusters and other personnel from around the country. The center will feature actual crashed and burned vehicles for training.
Travelers has started a claim call-in center at the Windsor site, and also plans a special drive-in claim center there where customers can bring damaged but drivable vehicles.
In Hartford, where Travelers currently has five office sites, the company is expected to occupy some space in the Gold Building, though no lease has been signed yet. The company already leases about 150,000 square feet in State House Square, where it has about 300 employees, and is considering leasing more space there.
In addition, Travelers plans to renovate space for more efficient use of its well-known Travelers Tower building at 700 Main St. and the Plaza Building at 50 Prospect St. Travelers also occupies space at Connecticut River Plaza at 450 Columbus Blvd.
Judd Everhart, a spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell, said Travelers' job news "clearly demonstrates that our efforts to partner with companies committed to growing in Connecticut are paying off. And it's very encouraging that St. Paul Travelers is looking for additional space downtown."
Fernandez, citing Travelers' rescue of the annual PGA Tour event in Cromwell and plans for new jobs, said, "I just think this is affirmation for the industry and the city."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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