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Gov. Scott announces insurer to add 1,000 jobs in Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: September 19, 2013 at 06:43 AM

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TAMPA — A Hillsborough County company that serves health insurers will hire more than 1,000 people around Tampa in coming years, believed to be one of the biggest corporate expansions in a decade.

The company, HealthPlan Services, expects to hire 350 additional people by April in jobs including software coding, project management, membership services and sales representatives. It plans to hire hundreds more by 2018.

Gov. Rick Scott heralded the expansion at a ribbon-cutting event at HealthPlan Services’ new east Tampa office building, at 6700 Lakeview Center Drive near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Scott handed a gold-colored medal to HealthPlan Services Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bak in praise of his company’s job-creation.

Nonetheless, the company’s recent expansion actually is a bit awkward for the governor.

HealthPlan Services is hiring partly because it expects to pick up a significant number of new customers from the new federal Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, Bak said. Once the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the company should pick up many newly insured individual policyholders, who purchase their own insurance rather than obtain it through an employer. The company also expects many small companies to migrate their employees into individual policies, Bak said.

“There are going to be a lot of new enrollees,” he said.

Gov. Scott has spoken out against the new healthcare law, but nonetheless has advocated accepting federal dollars for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Regardless of the politics involved, HealthPlan Services’ expansion is seen as a big economic win for the Tampa area. A spokeswoman for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., a local economic development agency, said it may be the biggest such project the agency has worked on since 2003.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan and state Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, attended Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting and spoke about its impact on jobs.

“This announcement is big,” Buckhorn said. “This announcement means jobs. This announcement is momentum.”

Hillsborough County won the project over at least three other states, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania. HealthPlan Services already employs about 650 employees in Hillsborough County and another 120 elsewhere in Florida. It’s unlikely the company would have moved its existing employees out of Florida, Bak said, but it was seriously considering expanding elsewhere.

Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm, convened an economic development powwow in Atlanta in the spring and invited representatives from the Tampa Bay area and from other competing states to hear about the project. Ultimately, the Tampa area won after the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa City Council agreed to contribute a combined $502,800 in economic incentives to the project.

The state also committed to just over $2 million in additional incentives, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. For that total package of about $2.5 million, the company will be expected to create 838 new positions, with an average wage of $47,581. The incentive program will pay HealthPlan Services only after the company creates the jobs, the EDC said, unlike another popular state program that awards companies with incentive checks up front.

Dan Krassner, a frequent critic of government incentives with a watchdog group called Integrity Florida, took aim at the package awarded to HealthPlan Services.

“These job promises come at a cost to taxpayers who are on the hook for more than $2.5 million,” Krassner said. “The public should be allowed to voice their opinion on deals like this before their money is given away to private companies.”

HealthPlan Services will ramp up its new office on Lakeview Center Drive in east Tampa, while also expanding its current headquarters on the Interstate 275 frontage road near Tampa International Airport, said Ann Marie Woessner-Collins, a Jones Lang LaSalle managing director.

Jobseekers interested in open positions may visit HealthPlan Services’ careers page, at www.healthplan.com, for information.

HealthPlan Services has operated in Tampa since 1970 and provides services to health insurers, including marketing, customer retention and benefits administration. Bak, the CEO who started as a salesman with the company in 1989, praised the Tampa Bay area’s workforce and the vigor with which local economic development officials pursued the company.

“It always felt good that we were, A, welcomed and wanted,” Bak told the crowd Wednesday.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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