Answer Financialâ€™s decision to relocate its local sales center to Knoxville, taking several hundred jobs, will have a significant impact on Oak Ridge, but another tenant could be interested in moving into the office building on Union Valley Road, business leaders said.
One of the largest auto and home insurance agencies in the United States, Answer Financial broke ground on its new 32,775-square-foot facility on Bridgewater Road in Knoxville last week. It could be open by early fall and serve as the companyâ€™s primary sales center. It will be able to house more than 400 employees, including more than 100 new employees the company plans to hire in the next two years.
Estimates of the jobs lost in Oak Ridge ranged from about 200 to 300, and officials said Answer Financial workers earned $40,000 to $50,000 or more.
â€œItâ€™s just a shame that we werenâ€™t able to entice them to stay,â€ said Rick Chinn, partner in R&R Enterprises, which owns the Union Valley Road property. â€œItâ€™s just hard to find 300 jobs.â€
â€œIt has a significant impact,â€ said Kim Denton, president of the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership. â€œItâ€™s especially hard when itâ€™s a company that we recruited more than 10 years ago.â€
Oak Ridge officials said the city worked with other agenciesâ€”including Tennessee, Anderson County, and the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Boardâ€”to help provide Answer Financial, which was then known as InsLogic in Oak Ridge, with a piece of telecommunications equipment known as an electric switch. That aid, which provided InsLogic with system redundancy, was worth several hundred thousand dollars, local officials said.
Denton said the switch is fully depreciated and outdated now.
Chinn said R&R Enterprises is discussing possible leases with other potential tenants at the Union Valley Road building, which has space for about 450 workers.
Answer Financialâ€™s 10-year lease was up this spring.
In a press release last week, Answer Financial said the relocation to west Knoxville will be â€œbeneficial in attracting and retaining associates by offering a more central location with easy access to dining and services.â€ The new location will shorten the commute for most employees and â€œdouble the number of associates that will be less than a 15-minute drive from the office,â€ the company said.
In addition, more than 90 percent of recent applicants live closer to the new location, which is a short drive east of Cedar Bluff Road.
â€œBreaking ground on this new building demonstrates our commitment to the Innovation Valley,â€ said Rob Slingerland, Answer Financial chief executive officer. In its press release, the company expressed its appreciation to Oak Ridge officials and the community.
Denton said Answer Financial, an Allstate company, wasnâ€™t able to recruit the workforce it needed in Oak Ridge. There is a perception that Oak Ridge is farther away from Knoxville than it actually is, she said.
â€œIt was hard to get University of Tennessee students or other potential applicants to come to the Oak Ridge location,â€ Denton said. â€œWe need to overcome that perception.â€