Thursday, January 27, 2005

State Farm officially opens new office site

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Architectural controversy aside, most people at Wednesday's official dedication of State Farm's new Vallejo facility agreed the good of it being there far outweighs any bad.

Several hundred State Farm Insurance Company employees and local business and civic leaders attended the dedication of the company's new Vallejo Operations Center along Mare Island Way on Wednesday afternoon. Most of the event took place inside two large white tents, erected behind the building as insurance against inclement weather which never materialized.

The building's design and placement along the waterfront has generated some controversy since the decision was announced about two years ago that the firm was interested in moving part of its operations to Vallejo. Some locals objected to the office's location on the waterfront and others didn't appreciate the look of the building itself.

Whatever remained of the controversy was barely evident at Wednesday's event. Even City Councilmember Joanne Schivley, who publicly opposed the building's location, said she was pleased the company is in Vallejo. She also said the controversy should be an object lesson to help the city avoid similar problems in the future.

"The addition of State Farm to the Vallejo business community is very positive, but I still would have preferred the building be further from the street," Schivley said. "And Vallejo needs design guidelines. You can't hold people to a standard if you don't have an established standard in place."

Continentals of Omega Boys & Girls Club founder Philmore Graham, who also attended, said he never had a problem with the building's location or form.

Besides, he said, "It's great for the community. And on a national level, State Farm supports the Boys and Girls Club."

Speaking to the crowd, Vallejo Mayor Tony Intintoli Jr. said he is "one of those who thinks the building is beautiful.

"This is a great day for us in Vallejo," Intintoli said. "We've anxiously awaited its arrival. And we know your employees will buy and shop downtown."

Intintoli expressed hope that Vallejo would "move forward with the downtown development, and bring more companies like (State Farm) who find Vallejo a good place to locate."

State Farm's Mercedes Ortiz explained how the firm's operations center wound up in Vallejo following a July 2002 corporate decision to close half the company's four regional offices. That decision included moving the firm's claims department from Rohnert Park to "someplace in the East Bay," she said.

Research and employee input led to the decision to build in Vallejo, she said. And, said State Farm vice president Warren Spikes, Vallejo seems to have been the right choice.

"We're very excited about this endeavor," Spikes said. "It's a long time coming, but well worth the wait."

Construction on the building began about a year ago and was completed in October. Company personnel moved into the building in November, said company spokesman Lonny Haskins. There are some 200 employees working in the Vallejo office, many who commute from outside the city. The firm plans to hire more people in the coming years, Haskins said.
Spikes said he knows Vallejo to be "an active waterfront community that throughout its history has attracted innovative, hardworking people."

Among other things, he said, this makes Vallejo "a good fit for State Farm today and for where it's going in the future."

- E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

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