Business legend Warren Buffett will be in town Tuesday to announce 500 jobs at a new Geico insurance service center in Lenexa.
Geico, which is owned by Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, plans to start hiring customer service and sales employees immediately. It will open the service center in August and add 500 jobs over five years, according to a release from the Kansas City Area Development Council.
Buffett is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
Geico's move is the first large job creation announcement by a company new to Kansas City in at least a year, said Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the area development council, or KCADC. Cowden pointed to other large projects, including Auto Alert's move to downtown Kansas City from California.
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“I think it’s indicative of the upward trajectory that the KC region is on right now," Cowden said. "We’re receiving serious consideration from a number of leading corporations.”
Cowden said the jobs Geico plans to create are "high-end licensed insurance positions."
Blake Schreck, president of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce, said it was a significant project for Lenexa and the region.
“Five hundred jobs — that's one of the biggest job concentrations that we’ve had from any kind of (single) project in quite some time," Schreck said.
According to the release, Geico invested almost $10 million in a 55,000-square-foot office building in Lenexa. The KCADC worked with other economic development forces, including the Kansas Department of Commerce, Lenexa Chamber of Commerce, CBRE real estate, the Kansas City Veteran Coalition and higher education organizations.
Cowden said Geico is highly protective of its brand and its decision to locate in Lenexa "validates all this positive momentum that we have.”
Wooing Geico took two years, Cowden said.
When economic development officials learned of the Geico opportunity, they assembled a team of business and education forces and worked to sell Geico on Kansas City. Part of that was proving the area could support Geico's goals because "the name of the game today is talent," Cowden said.
“The first and last question any company has is can they attract and retain talent?" Cowden said. "And Lenexa has made a great case that they can support Geico’s growth within the overall context of the Kansas City region.”
Cowden said Kansas City is a "dynamic, growing region" for talent.
It's unclear what other cities the insurer may have been considering.
In the release, Geico Chairman Tony Nicely said the company was "thrilled to make the Kansas City area the home of our newest office."
“We are looking forward to being part of this vibrant community and adding talented people to the GEICO team," Nicely said.
Gov. Jeff Colyer said Kansas' "business-friendly climate" helped attract Geico.
“We appreciate GEICO for recognizing Kansas as a state where financial services firms can be very successful, and welcome GEICO’s decision to choose Kansas as the location for this new support facility," Colyer said in a statement. "We are looking forward to future growth of this partnership.”
Schreck said Lenexa was a good option for Geico because of the labor pool, access to major highways and available real estate.
"Certainly, Lenexa has been hot," Schreck said.
Lenexa officials will be making other big announcements this week, Schreck said.
The Geico announcement isn't the first time Berkshire Hathaway has planted its flag in Kansas City.
Over the years, Berkshire Hathaway has bought the Helzberg Diamonds jewelry store chain, based in North Kansas City; the ReeseNichols real estate business, through a Minneapolis company; the Van Tuyl Group of car dealerships; and homebuilder Summit Homes in Lee's Summit.
Buffett took part in the 2003 opening of the Nebraska Furniture Mart store near the Kansas Speedway. It too is a Berkshire business.