In August 1974, Geico opened a regional office in Macon with just 150 employees.
Now as the insurance giant celebrates 40 years in the city, the number of workers has swelled to more than 5,400.
The local operation is Geico’s largest in the country, and it’s still growing.
Geico already is one of the largest midstate employers and is planning to have about 6,000 on the payroll by the end of the year.
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More than 100 people, including Geico executives and employees, local and state government leaders and others, gathered Tuesday on its Ocmulgee East Industrial Park campus to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary here.
“The reason we located here in central Georgia was because of the workforce,” said Bill Roberts, Geico’s president and chief operating officer from the corporate office in Washington, D.C. “We knew the employment market was good, and we would be able to attract a lot of people. ... All of the people who are managing our operations today started as an entry-level employee, ... and they have grown and they have been promoted. They have learned to be leaders.”
The Macon operation was originally responsible for handling insurance in 26 states, Roberts said. The company has since split off its Texas and Florida operations. Macon is now home to Geico’s Midwest and Southeast regional offices.
The company is the second-largest automobile insurer in the country, Roberts said. It has 32,000 facilities across the country.
“Today we are hiring new people all the time,” he said, encouraging people to ask their friends to apply.
Roberts said he worked in Macon’s Geico office from 1991 to 1994 and that he and his wife enjoyed living here.
“It was a great experience, and we have very fond memories of living in Macon and of the Middle Georgia area,” he said.
Rhett Rayburn, Geico Southeast’s central services vice president, worked in Macon 20 years ago in the claims department. After working in other offices, he came back to Macon last year. Rayburn said he is always running into people he worked with 20 years ago.
“The comfort that comes with all that continuity means that we have to take care of each other,” he said. “To me that’s the relationship between our operation and Macon. We rely on the Macon community and the state of Georgia to take care of us in so many ways. The most important of which is to supply (Geico with good employees).”
The celebration also was a time to reminisce about how things have changed since the company first opened.
“Everything was done through the mail,” Roberts said of the early days. “We didn’t have computers to speak of. ... Then you think of today when so much is done electronically, whether it’s on your computer or through this stupid smart phone” as he held up his phone.
Georgia Commissioner of Insurance Ralph Hudgens said that part of his office’s responsibility is to handle insurance complaints.
“Let me tell you, we have very, very few claims we have had to handle from Geico,” Hudgens said. “My hat’s off to you.”
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, who attended the ceremony with seven commissioners, said Geico is “a remarkable success story.”
“We are thrilled with the success of Geico,” Reichert said. “We are proud to have a corporate citizen of the statue and significance of Geico here in Macon-Bibb County. It’s a feather in our cap to say we are home to two regional centers for Geico.”
Reichert credits Geico’s relationship with its employees with making it the largest United Way contributor in the region. The company and its employees have been United Way of Central Georgia’s top contributor the past 10 years. Last year the Macon operation raised more than $1 million -- the first company to reach that level in the midstate.
Tuesday’s ceremony also included showing off items that had been stored in a time capsule. The company encases a time capsule in a wall of its office every 20 years.
The capsule from 1994 had already been opened, its contents displayed on a table. Many of the items were photographs from the Macon flood, including The Telegraph’s front page with the headline “It’s still rising,” said Midwest Regional Vice President Scott Markel.
Another photo showed Geico employees handing out water to residents. The company raised money from its offices across the country to buy water to donate, he said.
The company also displayed the contents for a new time capsule to be opened in 2034. It will include a non-working iPad and cellphone, Markel said.
It also will include a flash drive.
“Twenty years from now ... (employees) will look this and say ‘What do we do with this?’” he said.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.