Wisconsin company may bring hundreds of jobs to town

Insurance claims firm trying to firm up details for move into downtown.

SPRINGFIELD — Once a few final details are ironed out, an Eau Claire, Wis.-based company will likely establish a second location in downtown Springfield, which could create hundreds of new jobs.

Insurance Claims Management Inc., with its two operating divisions, Code Blue and HSG, is “strongly considering Springfield as part of our expansion plans in the offering and construction of a redundant claims processing center,” said Paul Gross, president and CEO of ICM and both divisions.

The company was to apply today, Oct. 29, for job creation tax credits with the Ohio Department of Development. The company is targeting the first quarter of 2010 for the expansion.

Code Blue is the company officially doing business with the state, but both divisions will have operations in Springfield.

The company’s Eau Claire location will continue to serve as the center of operations; Gross would not confirm an employee count for Eau Claire, but said the expansion would double the size of the company.

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The company has thrived during the present economic downturn, precipitating the need for expansion.

“We really refer to our Code Blue operation as our command center,” Gross said, “and our company has been enjoying spectacular growth over the past 12 months. (ICM’s) overall business is up over 50 percent and Code Blue is up well over that.”

Code Blue provides outsourced solutions for insurance carriers that manifests as the management of water damage claims when an insurance policy holder has a loss.

HSG operates similarly, managing primarily auto glass claims.

Code Blue manages a contractor network to complete repairs and audits claims to make sure a satisfactory outcome is achieved.

“It’s cradle-to-grave claims fulfillment solutions, so we take the first notice of loss,” Gross said. “We start by embracing the policy holder. We guarantee that no matter where in the United Sates — and we do provide service in literally every ZIP code in America — within two hours, someone will be ringing their doorbell.”

The company’s growth has been facilitated in part by a process engineered to drive considerable efficiency into the claims management process. With water damage, there is consequential damage for every minute that water stands in the house, so a quick response helps both the insurer and the insured.

“Our service offering is keenly focused on the service side first, and we don’t think that has to be at odds with the most cost-effective strategy,” Gross said. “By getting out there fast, you’re not only getting out there in a way that policy holders love, but you’re also limiting the damage.”

An expanding work force

While Gross would not commit to a specific number of new jobs, he said “hundreds” will be created, including executive management, trainers, claims specialists and support staff.

Experience in insurance, construction or contracting may be helpful in securing a claims specialist position with Code Blue, but Gross said the company will need workers with a wide range of skills and experience.

Code Blue will seek out people “from all sorts of diverse backgrounds and disciplines” as the company will need a “wide and vast array of folks to help ... manage this expansion effort,” he said.

No pay scales were offered because of the wide range of jobs that will become available.

Training will be available through a proposed partnership with Clark State Community College.

“The framework is established, but details not yet refined. They would have course offerings that would teach the disciplines for the jobs that are available in the marketplace,” Gross said.

The new claims facility will find a home in one of two downtown buildings — the Bushnell building or One South Fountain (formerly known as the Credit Life building) — both owned by attorney James Lagos.

The space at One South Fountain is move-in ready, but the Bushnell space will require more work.

“We are very much tenant-driven, so what’s good for them will be good for us. ... It’s my job to provide the space where growth is possible,” he said.

Both locations offer flexibility with regard to number of jobs, so it’s really up to the company based on need and timing, Lagos added.

Before a site is chosen, Gross will send his information technology staff into each location to evaluate which is more hospitable from a technology standpoint.

“I expect that if and when this plan becomes formalized, Jim and I will have no trouble reaching an agreement to be in one of those two buildings,” Gross said.

Why Springfield?

Almost two years ago when Gross — a resident of Madison County who commutes to Wisconsin — started talking to then state Rep. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, about his company’s need to expand, Widener tried to convince him Ohio was the place to be.

Gross was not convinced.

“I told him there was less than a 1 percent chance that we’d move or expand into Ohio. Through his efforts and the efforts of a lot of other people ... he’s moved that percentage up significantly,” Gross said.

After working with Widener, now a state senator, and area officials including those from the city of Springfield, Clark County and Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and Dayton Development Coalition, Gross changed his mind.

“We’ve arrived at this point through lots of due diligence and effort. We think (this expansion) is core to the future growth of our organization. I believe city and state are desirous to create jobs that diversify the workforce. ... I think it’s attractive to them that we can thrive even in an economic downturn, and we’re a growing company,” he said.

The area’s reliable IT infrastructure will accommodate the company’s high-tech jobs, and the area’s high unemployment rate ensures an available pool of potential employees.

Downtown Springfield was attractive, too, because “we’ve found that the work ethics of folks in these Midwest towns are exceptional. They take a personal ownership in the work product and the outcome and have a deep commitment to the customer,” Gross said.

Continued improvements to the downtown area, including the construction of two hospitals, has been a boon for Springfield, Widener said, but this will bring more people downtown and more dollars coming into the community.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We’re getting a good company that’s growing and has a great business model. It will continue to grow and that growth will be in downtown Springfield and Clark County.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0371 or elroberts@coxohio.com.

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