Jennifer Woodley owes her career at GEICO to a delivery truck driver.
Woodley, who was working at the time for UPS, was helping out one of the company’s drivers on an Amherst route almost a decade ago when he pointed out the insurer’s temporary office and remarked how the company had plans to hire a lot of people in the Buffalo Niagara region.
Woodley went home, got on the computer and filled out an application. She ended up getting a job as part of GEICO’s second wave of local hiring back in 2004. Several promotions later, she’s now a supervisor at the insurer’s fast-growing Amherst customer service center – one of more than 700 GEICO employees in Amherst who have been promoted at least three times since joining the company.
“I’m really lucky,” Woodley said last week after GEICO marked the hiring of the 2,500th worker at the Amherst center. “It really is a great company to work for ... I’m here for the long haul.”
So is her colleague, Robyn Frank. GEICO was the first company she applied to after graduating from college and she landed a job in the same wave of hiring as Woodley, avoiding the fate of far too many local college graduates who end up moving away because they can’t find a decent job once they’re done with school.
“There’s always room to grow,” Frank said. “It’s what you put into it.”
And it’s what GEICO’s 2,500 workers put into their jobs that has helped put the Amherst customer service center over its employment target two years ahead of schedule.
Richard Hoagland, GEICO’s regional vice president in Buffalo, said it’s essential that the insurer’s workers get everything right the first time a customer calls in, whether it’s to get a quote on a car insurance policy or to report an accident. Forgetting a key detail and having to call the customer back isn’t efficient, and it also may tarnish their impression of what it’s like to work with GEICO, he said.
“We’re looking at the quality of the work that’s being done,” he said. “How well we are listening to and responding to the customer’s needs, and how quickly we’re getting it done. All of those are things that we do really well here in Buffalo.”
And when you’re trying to sell insurance by telling people that they can save money by switching to GEICO, it’s especially important to keep costs as low as possible.
“We have this very efficient way of delivering auto insurance to people,” said Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns both GEICO and The Buffalo News. “The metrics of this office are tremendous.”
And so is the overall impact of GEICO on the Buffalo Niagara economy.
In a region that’s been starved for growth ever since the steel plants shut down more than three decades ago, GEICO’s growth stands out like a shining star.
Consider this: Since GEICO started hiring workers in the spring of 2004, the Buffalo Niagara region has added a grand total of 5,000 jobs. GEICO alone accounts for 2,500 new positions. In other words, one of every two new jobs that have been added across the Buffalo Niagara region came from the Amherst service center.
That means a lot because our job growth over that nine-year period has been dismal, averaging less than 600 jobs per year, or an annual increase of about one-tenth of 1 percent. Take GEICO out of the mix, and the average growth rate drops to just 300 jobs a year, which is just a baby step away from stagnation.
“These are 2,500 jobs that weren’t here 10 years ago. They’re infusing great economic vitality into Western New York,” said Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. “I know how much jobs mean during these times. To have 2,500 jobs created by this great company in Amherst and the Buffalo region is really something you can’t duplicate.”
Even better, GEICO keeps hiring. The company isn’t saying what their next goal is now that they’ve met their 2,500-job benchmark. But the two-story Amherst service center still has room for more cubicles and company officials in the past have said the facility in the CrossPointe Business Park could accommodate as many as 3,800 people.
“We will continue to add jobs in Western New York,” Hoaglund said. “Tell your friends. Tell your family, that GEICO is hiring.”
In the job-starved Buffalo Niagara region, those words are music to our ears.