TRAVERSE CITY — By Kathy Gibbons
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network want to insure the vitality of Michigan's downtowns.
To prove the point, the company relocated its area sales and service center and roughly 30 employees to downtown Traverse City. It's the same strategy the insurer has used in other Michigan cities including Detroit, where 3,000 suburban workers were moved downtown, and in Lansing and Grand Rapids.
"We believe in core city strategies: get your employees downtown to help revitalize the urban core," said Jeff Connolly, Blue Cross vice president and president of West Michigan Operations and Managed Care. "By doing so, you attract better talent and improve the economy."
Blue Cross previously operated from a facility it owned at 1769 S. Garfield, but leased about 10,000-square feet on one-and-a-half floors in the City Centre Plaza building at 202 E. State. The space had been vacant since Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge attorneys moved out in late 2010 to take up residence in the new 101 North Park Building on Front Street, said Bryan Crough, executive director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.
"We're thrilled to see the building fully occupied, and of course, a large employer like that is great," said Crough. "It's exactly the kind of thing we needed to go in that building."
The insurer's customer service center is located on half of the first floor to make it easily accessible, said Traverse City Regional Sales Manager Frank W. Smith. Blue Cross in Traverse City sees between 400 and 500 walk-in clients a month, most of them senior citizens who have limited use of or access to the Internet.
"There's parking for our customers without having to fill meters or go to the parking deck, behind the building," Smith said. "We've designated seven spots for customers."
Blue Cross also occupies the entire second floor. In addition to the traverse city staff, several other employes will be scattered around the north.
Blue Cross signaled its commitment to maintain a northern Michigan office by signing a long-term lease, Connolly said.
"It's a great opportunity for us to support the local economy and a message that we are here to stay," Connolly said.
Crough said Blue Cross' move downtown reflects a growing trend nationwide.
"People are realizing that having employees who can interact all day long with customers and shop or eat without moving their cars is a big deal," Crough said. "I think the office parks are suffering.
"Fortunately, we didn't have much of that in this region. But the idea of isolating office workers nationwide is really waning."
Neighboring Cherry Capital Cadillac Subaru purchased the Blue Cross property, said General Manager Mike McFarlan.
"We bought it so we could exercise any options we may want for future growth," he said. "We're still up in the air as to what to do with (the building). We want to decide whether to move it, use it or tear it down."
Move signals commitment to downtown, maintaining local presence
TRAVERSE CITY — By Kathy Gibbons
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