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BlueCross has new digs

Regence BlueCross BlueShield will show off its new 82,000-square-foot northeast Medford service center today, holding a dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. followed by a 4:30 p.m. public reception.

The state's largest health insurance corporation, with 57,526 customers in Jackson County, announced in January it would expand its Southern Oregon presence after operating out of a 27,000-square-foot office on Central Avenue for the past decade.

This time last year, the provider of medical, dental and related coverage for 1.1 million people in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., employed 80 in its downtown office. Since then, the company has added 160 workers.

Les Cracraft, Regence's regional manager, said the only person to relocate from another company office was building services supervisor Frank Martin. At the same time, Regence created a shuffle in the local service industry sector.

I would say 98 percent (of the new employees) were working elsewhere, Cracraft said.

The two-mile migration took place primarily at the end of August.

Regence paid &

36;4.6 million for the former SRC Vision manufacturing plant and spent &

36;4.2 million in a remodeling project that included seismic upgrades. It also brought in fiber optic lines in a joint venture between Qwest and Hunter Communications.

We had T-1 lines in the old building, Cracraft said, But when you have 500 people connected through internal systems and the Internet, it requires upgrading.

One of the major obstacles to moving from downtown was communicating the change of address to its 19,000 local senior customers.

The most important focus was on continuity of service, Cracraft said. Quite frankly we serve a lot of senior citizens. We did mass mailings and unfortunately they were sometimes overlooked. Old habits die hard, so when they went to the old facility and saw a map on the door, they were able to find us.

It wasn't easy to leave downtown, which saw the departure of accounting firm Moss Adams to the Lausmann Business Center on Stewart Avenue in May, Cracraft said. But the added contribution to the community's economy outweighed the negatives.

John Anhorn, PremierWest Bank president and chief executive officer, said the expanded operation will have a substantial impact in the near future.

The ripple effect of the dollars turning over seven to 10 times in our community will mean a &

36;50- to &

36;70 million injection for the first three years in our local economy.

Regence has said that it plans to add roughly 200 positions during a three-year period and 100 more beyond that by 2008.

Cracraft said that Regence will continue to collaborate with Rogue Community College in preparing future workers, providing entry-level skills such as benefits coding and other industry-specific training. He said it takes another six to eight weeks of training before employees are ready to serve customers.

Regence is refurbishing the old building, last remodeled in 1992 and is considering listing it for sale. It previously housed Rogue Valley Physician's Service before it was merged with Regence BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association that nationally provides coverage for one in four Americans.

Regence employs 2,900 people in Oregon at six centers, including 2,500 in Portland.

Claims analyst Kathy Hendren of Eagle Point occupies a cubicle at Regence BlueCross BlueShield's new office on Commerce Drive in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven