TAMPA — Insurance giant USAA is upping its already big presence in Hillsborough County by adding as many as 1,215 new jobs in the next five years, one of the biggest economic development projects in years.
At least a thousand of those jobs are expected to be at a proposed 420,000-square-foot office building near Brandon, with some other new employees at USAA’s existing campus off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa.
State and local officials on Tuesday beamed about the project’s potential to boost the area’s wages and lift the economy. The news comes just a few weeks after the online retailer Amazon announced it will build a 1,000-worker distribution center in Ruskin, and just a couple months after insurance services company HealthPlan Services said it would add 1,000 employees around Tampa.
“I think one goes back more than a decade for an announcement like this,” said Rick Homans, chief executive of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “This is a huge project and a huge affirmation of this marketplace, of our workforce and it’s the biggest capital investment in a project here since 2001.”
As he has in other recent job announcements, Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement that USAA’s expansion is “another sign Florida is becoming the number one state for business.”
To be sure, though, Tampa is benefiting from the insurer’s overall expansion. So far this year, San Antonio-based USAA has announced it will put 1,000 extra jobs in both San Antonio and Phoenix and 680 new jobs in Dallas.
USAA has been searching for extra space around Tampa at least since August 2012, when company representatives placed a call to the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Hillsborough County’s chief business recruiting agency. USAA has expanded its customer base in recent years, and its 1,800 local employees were cramped inside their seven-story New Tampa building and a satellite office in east Tampa’s Sabal Park area.
For months, USAA officials kept their identity secret, even sending teams of representatives to meet with EDC without revealing their company affiliation. It was only months after that initial August 2012 call that Homans discovered the company’s identity, he said.
The company originally had some concerns about the availability of some specialty workers, such as information technology workers, Homans said. However, his agency provided USAA with figures about the local IT workforce and apparently satisfied them. Another selling point was Tampa’s big military presence, because USAA’s customer base is primarily the military and their families.
“All areas were considered, but where’s the talent? Tampa showed up pretty strong,” said Robert Hoyland, who oversees USAA’s Tampa operations.
To accommodate its expansion, USAA initially will lease 50,000 square feet inside the Lakeview Center office in east Tampa. By 2015, it expects to build a new office inside the Crosstown Center business park near the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and US 301. The vast majority of the new hires will likely be in this new Brandon facility, although some may work out of the existing New Tampa office, a USAA spokeswoman said.
The company is making a $164.3 million capital investment with its new office and expansion.
The new jobs should provide a jolt of energy to Brandon. Laura Simpson, chief executive of the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce, hadn’t caught wind in recent months that USAA was snooping around looking for a massive new office.
“USAA locating 1,000 new jobs in our community is definitely a big win for us,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of employers of that size.”
Most of the new jobs will interact directly with USAA’s customers, including positions in financial advising, credit card, banking and insurance, Hoyland said. A small percentage will be in back-office support roles, he said. Those interested can find more information on USAA’s Web site, at www.usaa.com.
To entice USAA to expand locally, the Hillsborough County Commission approved giving the company tax incentives worth $729,000 through a program called Qualified Target Industries. The state also is kicking in another $2.9 million through the same program, for a total state and local incentive package worth more than $3.6 million. That comes to incentive payments of $3,000 per job.
The jobs are expected to pay an average annual wage of $47,581, according to Hillsborough County tax incentive documents. A hiring schedule included in county documents shows USAA contemplated hiring 90 employees by this Dec. 31, and was expected to hire anywhere from 124 employees to 274 employees every year thereafter through 2018.
The Tampa Bay area has been on a bit of roll lately, having scored several major corporate expansions. Since October of last year, companies have pledged to create 4,134 new jobs in Hillsborough County and invest $127.1 million in capital projects, a Tampa Hillsborough EDC report shows. The report doesn’t include this latest USAA announcement.
The EDC celebrated the recent good fortune at its annual meeting Monday at the Forum in downtown Tampa.
The money the EDC collects to support its corporate recruiting also has been rising lately. Revenue at the 18-person agency rose to about $2.9 million in fiscal 2013 from $2.4 million in fiscal 2012.
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan called the USAA news “another home run for Hillsborough County,” and read off a litany of recent economic development announcements.
“Clearly, our economic development strategies are working,” Hagan said. “Just in the last year, Morgan Stanley, DTCC (Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.), Bristol-Myers Squibb, HealthPlan Services, now USAA, our corporate development strategies are clearly working.”