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Headquarters for four firms reflect insurance industry's impact on greater Lansing
May 01, 2013

Originally published in the Lansing State Journal April 27, 2013 (www.lsj.com)

By Ryan S. Clark

Surely there are reasons why the insurance sector has found a home in Lansing.

Chance could be among them.

“A lot of times in economic development, you have to get lucky,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of regional development group Lansing Economic Area Partnership Inc. “You’re not sure why Henry Ford was born in Detroit but that is where the car production is. At the mid-part of last century, we had a few people for we’ll say namely luck start insurance companies here.”

Or even earlier.

TRANSFORMING LANSING

In 1912, what is now known as the Accident Fund Holdings Inc., was created. Four years later came Auto-Owners Insurance. And with that, a trend began, transforming Greater Lansing into a home for insurance companies and their corporate headquarters.

The region is home to four companies Accident Fund, Auto-Owners, Jackson National Life Insurance Co. and Michigan Farm Bureau making insurance a major economic player.

“When you have that kind of magnitude, it attracts talent,” said Darcy Kerr, the vice president of human resources for Accident Fund Holdings based in downtown Lansing.

Does it ever.

Because of the regulatory nature of the finance, insurance and real estate, the sectors are considered to be under the same umbrella on a national platform.

The trio makes up nearly 10 percent – or more than 26,000 people – of the greater Lansing workforce, according to LEAP.

Insurance is indeed a local economic gorilla with clout. But it also an industry looking to expand, improve its image and recruit to replace what is an aging workforce.

NOT WHAT IT SEEMS

Depending on the source, insurance can sound daunting or enjoyable as a profession.

It’s not all paperwork and pencil-pushing, but it’s not exactly J.K. Simmons teaching the correct way to put out a grease fire, either.

“I think the biggest misconception is that (insurance) is boring,” Kerr said. “It is an innovative industry. We, along with all insurance companies, are looking for ways to innovate and to bring new services, technologies and ways of doing business to our customers.”

Kerr said insurance, in many ways, has a sort of noble facet to how it is supposed to serve its customers.

She said the job of insurance companies – and their products – are to protect people from injuries, catastrophes and work incidents.

“I think that it has a characteristic, it has that social mission,” Kerr said. “That social component makes it an attractive industry because you are doing something for the community. The challenging work for insurance is making it an attractive option.”

The earnings potential in insurance can also be a draw.

Michigan ranks as one of the better-paying states for insurance agents. Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate the average insurance sales agent has a mean wage of $55,140 a year. And the Lansing-East Lansing metropolitan area has the highest concentration of insurance jobs in the country.

There are also the benefits some companies offer in addition to the income potential.

“We have some good programs in place,” Kerr said. “We have a culture devoted to wellness. We have an on-site wellness center to promote healthy lifestyles and celebrate success. They are focused on making a fun place to work, which in turn attracts the best talent.”

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

The need to attract talent is ever present, especially in an industry where the workforce is aging and many are nearing retirement or already have retired.

“Even with 100 percent placement of students majoring in insurance/risk management programs, we know that we will not even have 100 percent placement,” she said. “We will still fall short of filling those positions left by baby boomers. We do need to raise awareness that with insurance, it involves the law, math, engineering, medicine and technology and make it to where people consider it as an option.”

This is where Olivet College comes in.

Olivet College’s insurance and risk management program is one of about 100 in the nation, said Carol Breed, the director of the college’s risk management and insurance program.

Breed, a professor for 12 years, said Olivet has had a program since 1980, making it the oldest in Michigan.

“It started because insurance industry professionals were getting together and realizing there was such a need for in-depth insurance education,” Breed said. “They were concerned about who was going to take over and run the industry.”

Breed said insurance and risk management programs started around the 1960s and Ohio State University was one of the first schools to offer it as a major.

She said Michigan State University at one time offered a program but it is no longer active. Other schools across the state – Davenport University, Ferris State University and Lansing Community College – are either considering programs or are in the early stages of starting them.

“I think being in Lansing, there are a tremendous amount of bridges between us and the insurance companies here,” Breed said.

One of the strongest bridges is the partnership between Olivet College, the Eaton Intermediate School District and Michigan Farm Bureau.

The three have combined to offer high school juniors and seniors a chance to study insurance.

Seventeen students enrolled in this year’s class and they are learning about the industry through classes, exams and shadowing employees at Farm Bureau’s office who work in multiple departments.

“In addition to that, internships are a required part of the major and the big companies in Lansing are right there for them as far as providing internship opportunities,” Breed said. “But our students do go all over the state and some have internships outside of the state.”

Breed said about 90 percent of Olivet’s students stay and work in Michigan.

She described insurance as, “an industry supportive of helping our students.

“Its a partnership from the time they get here,” Breed said. “It starts as early from the time they sign up in high school.”


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