Monroe feeling the effects of State Farm departure

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 2:59 pm
By: News On 6

MONROE, La. (AP) _ More than half of 1,300 State Farm workers have left the Monroe area since last spring and the rest should be gone by July, as the company continues moving operations to Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The insurance company's Monroe offices will be closed by next summer. About 575 workers continue to work either in the operations headquarters or the claims annex, company spokesman Gary Stephenson said.

State Farm announced in February that it would close its Monroe center and eliminate what were then more than 1,100 jobs as part of a consolidation. That followed a decision in March 2003 to move more than 100 jobs to Austin, Texas.

Stephenson said that about 450 employees remain in the headquarters, which once housed 900, and 125 remain in the claims annex, which once housed 330.

He said that about 520 employees have accepted transfers. Of those, 100 moved to Austin, 150 will eventually move to Columbia, Mo., 130 to Tulsa, Okla., and 140 to Baton Rouge or Little Rock, Ark.

``We expect those numbers to decrease slightly because some of our employees may find work in Monroe and decide to stay,'' Stephenson said.

Bob Eisenstadt, a University of Louisiana at Monroe economist, said though the area has already begun to sense the loss of the $50 million annual payroll, the full economic effect won't be felt until next year at the earliest.

``We may already be seeing some of the beginnings of the loss, because estimated labor income in Ouachita Parish is going to be down 1.5 to 2 percent from last year, which represents more than $30 million in labor income,'' he said.

``But I believe it will clearly show up in the data during the second quarter of 2005, and by the middle of 2006, our economy will have settled at a different level unless we can replace those jobs.''