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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM

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State Farm to fill empty spot in downtown Tacoma

State Farm will hire 300 to establish a claims center in the space vacated when Russell Investments left the city.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Three years after Russell Investments left Tacoma, the city is buzzing with excitement over State Farm’s decision to fill that 300,000 square feet of empty office space with a customer service center.

State Farm Insurance Cos., ranked 43 in the Fortune 500, has signed leases for all of the office space in the former Russell Investments headquarters at 909 A Street and the four floors Russell had at Columbia Bank Center, 1301 A Street. The company is expected to occupy the space starting Oct. 1.

The move will cut Tacoma’s Class A vacancy rate to less than 5 percent, brokers said.

“It’s a sea change not only for the vacancy rate but for the market in general,” said Mike Hickey, a principal at Neil Walter Co., which represented the building’s owners in the lease.

“The best that could come of this would be that others who in the past have overlooked Tacoma might reconsider Tacoma,” he said.

Hickey added, “This is a significant employer that can add a lot of vibrancy to our community and spur potential investment.”

Brad Hilliard, a State Farm spokesman, said it expects to hire more than 300 people this summer for the downtown Tacoma operation, an initial claims center that takes calls from insurance policyholders when they need to report a loss.

Neither Hickey nor State Farm would say how long the company’s leases are for. Both said the leases offer the company flexibility to make changes as its plans evolve.

The leased space has the capacity to accommodate 1,100 people.

Nationally, Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm has been expanding its presence in Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix, regional hubs for its operations.

In Washington, State Farm’s regional headquarters is in DuPont, a town in Pierce County about 18 miles southwest of Tacoma.

The company also has small claims offices in Tukwila and Bothell.

The former Russell Investments building is owned by Ilahie Holdings, a unit of Seattle-based Saltchuk, a privately held transportation conglomerate.

The Columbia Bank Center is owned by the Haub Brothers Enterprises Trust.

Morgan Stanley, which has a sublease on about 11,800 square feet there, will continue to occupy that space, Hickey said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sbhatt

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