Warren Buffett started his legendary career 67 years ago when he took the train from Columbia University to Washington, D.C.
His professor, Ben Graham, was chairman of a company called Government Employees Insurance Co., or Geico. Buffett wanted to learn more.
"Geico is my favorite company because it got me my start," Buffett said at a Tuesday press conference announcing a new Geico service center in Lenexa that is expected to generate 500 jobs over the next five years.
After he graduated, Buffett said, he recommended Geico stock to anybody in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., that would "let (him) in the door." In 1950 — the year before Buffett took the train to Washington — Geico did $7 million worth of business.
"Now, we do that every two hours," Buffett said.
Buffett's loyalty to Geico is what drew the investment giant and chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which has dozens of subsidiaries, to Lenexa. Along with Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Geico Chairman Tony Nicely, Buffett cut the ribbon for the project at College Boulevard and Renner Road.
"I've, of course, been lobbying over the years to try and get a location in Nebraska, but I've got to tell you — Lenexa is the closest place now to Omaha, so this is my new home location," Buffett said to applause and whistles from a crowd of business, political and economic development leaders.
Geico invested nearly $10 million in the new office location and expects to start hiring sales and customer service professionals immediately. It's one of the area's largest jobs announcements in the last few years.
Both sales and customer service employees will make $17 per hour, about $35,000 per year. Sales employees can make up to $5,000 each month in additional incentives, for an annual salary as high as $96,000.
Blake Schreck, president of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce, said Geico didn't get any incentives from the city or county to buy and renovate the existing office building.
It's unclear whether Geico received any tax incentives from the Kansas Department of Commerce for the job creation.
Commerce spokesman Kevin Doel said in an email the department is "often asked to participate in developing incentive packages to attract businesses to our state."
"And our team completes a thorough benefit analysis when offering allowable incentives," Doel said. "In cases such as this Geico project, it would not be uncommon to include our standard incentive programs ... but until contracts are finalized with the company we are not able to provide specifics on the nature of the package."
Schreck said it was Lenexa's labor pool, access to interstates and availability of real estate that attracted Geico.
Colyer said the Geico announcement was especially positive because it would provide jobs for experienced managers and early-career sales and customer service professionals.
"You know and Geico knows that Kansas is a great place to do business, because we have the best people in the world," Colyer said. "This is the intersection of smart and nice, right here."
Frank Lenk, an economist for the Mid-America Regional Council, said jobs like those created at Geico are especially beneficial to the region because they bring in money from outside rather than serving only residents who are already here. The economic impact ends up being larger than the 500 jobs Geico is creating directly.
“That means that there will probably be another 500 jobs or so created elsewhere in the region out of the spending," Lenk said.