Blue Cross Blue Shield to put 400 employees at Muscogee Technology Park

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia — having announced in recent weeks it is adding 600 jobs in Columbus — is poised to occupy office space in Muscogee Technology Park on the city’s northeast side, in the Midland area.

The Atlanta-based insurer has signed a two-year lease for 47,700 square feet of space at 6175 Technology Parkway. That’s in a portion of the 434,000-square-foot building now occupied by MDV, a division of Nash Finch Co. MDV, which supplies military commissaries, including the one at Fort Benning, is using most of the structure for a warehouse and distribution center.

“I know they’re doing some work on the building itself right now. But there are no employees over there yet,” Blue Cross communications director Bert Kelly said Thursday.

Kelly said the company will house about 400 workers at the site when it’s finished, with a ribbon-cutting expected to take place within a month or so.

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s longtime office complex in Columbus is at 2357 Warm Springs Road, a structure that was built in phases starting in 1958, Kelly said. The multi-story tower was added in the late 1960s, with yet another expansion in the 1970s.

“That facility, that property, has been through a few changes over the last 50 or 60 years,” said Kelly, who could not confirm any plans the insurer may have to construct a new office complex in Columbus as it absorbs the new hires, which should increase its local workforce to roughly 1,800. A portion of its employees work remotely at home.

“At this point probably nothing is off the table,” Kelly said. “We’ll keep those two facilities for now. At some point down the line, we’ll look at some options. But there’s no hard and fast plan at this point to build new or to add more to the Warm Springs Road (complex).”

This is the second prominent company to land in Muscogee Technology Park recently. Aerospace firm Pratt & Whitney confirmed in mid-August its plans to set up shop in a 105,620-square-foot speculative building, with fighter jet-engine service work being relocated here from a plant being closed in San Antonio, Texas.

About $3.5 million in work is already underway to outfit the structure for its news mission, which should begin in early 2014, with 45 jobs being created initially. Pratt & Whitney already operates a large disk forging plant and engine overhaul center on Macon Road, not far from the new facility.

Brian Sillitto, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said the organization is working with Blue Cross “as it relates to the possibility of needing more space,” though he wasn’t more specific. But the overall expansion by the insurer has been in the works for some time.

"As it relates to this and all other local expansions, we have been working, specifically on this one, very hard for a long time," he said of the chamber, the city and the Development Authority of Columbus. "It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people."

KW Commercial brokers David Johnson and Jack Hayes helped Blue Cross Blue Shield secure the new office space in Columbus, while Colliers International represented MDV-Nash Finch.

Johnson said the structure that the insurer will inhabit was the office space used temporarily by Aflac several years ago as it was constructing its John B. Amos Campus in Corporate Ridge Business Park in Columbus.

“I wish you could see the inside of that building,” he said. “The building itself is Class A corporate office — a high level of finish, a lot of amenities, above average equipment, window treatments, carpet, you name it. It’s a gorgeous building.”

The structure was built about 15 years ago by Russell Brands, otherwise known by its athletic apparel, Russell Athletic. But the troubled company’s parent firm, Bowling Green, Ky.-based Fruit of the Loom, closed the distribution operation in November 2009. It was bought by MDV-Nash Finch shortly thereafter.

Aside from MDV-Nash Finch, the 1,151-acre Muscogee Technology Park also is home to Litho-Krome, FedEx Ground, Menlo Worldwide Logistics, and a couple of NCR Corp. facilities.

Kelly said Blue Cross Blue Shield is well into the hiring process in Columbus. Customer service and claims positions are the bulk of the jobs being filled, although a check of the company’s website shows specialized positions such as nurses, medical director and claims auditing are part of the mix locally.

The job creation comes with Blue Cross Blue Shield anticipating a surge in business because of the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” It requires every American to have health insurance or face a financial penalty.

Residents in states not participating with their own exchange — such as in Georgia and Alabama — will be required to use a national exchange to comply with the mandate, if they can’t buy coverage on the open market. Subsidies and tax credits will be offered by the government to help those who need assistance.

In April, a Blue Cross executive said the insurer hopes to add a million new clients after the new coverage mandate begins in 2014. The company already insures about 2.4 million statewide.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia is part of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., a for-profit managed health care company that merged with Anthem Inc. a decade ago.