UPC Insurance CEO speaks out on planned new corporate HQ in St. Pete

The city of St. Petersburg has become one of the more important recruiting tools for United Insurance Holdings Corp., CEO John Forney told the City Council.

 John Forney, CEO, United Insurance Holdings Corp., speaking at the St. Petersburg City Council

John Forney, CEO, United Insurance Holdings Corp., speaking at the St. Petersburg City Council

That’s why the  fast-growing property and casualty insurance firm wants to build its new corporate headquarters on city-owned land downtown, Forney said, just before the City Council approved a term sheet Thursday morning for the proposed sale of the land. The term sheet is a starting point for negotiations between the city and the company.

United Insurance (NASDAQ: UIHC), which does business as UPC Insurance, has offered $5 million to buy 4.6 acres of city-owned land at 800 1st Ave. S. The company plans to build a 150,000-square-foot Class A office, with a parking garage of about 500 spaces, and additional room allocated for a hotel and retail in the future.

The company has about 275 employees now, and plans to add 300 more jobs in the future, Forney said, but it’s out of room at its current headquarters at 800 2nd Av. S. and two other St. Pete sites, one owned and one leased. Three locations is not ideal, he said.

“We have a very strong corporate culture that we believe gives us a competitive advantage, and it’s best served if everyone can be in one location, which is not possible for us now. And so, we brought this proposal to the city, to build a new headquarters that will serve us for many years to come,” Forney said.

Forney has been CEO of UPC since 2012, but he has lived and worked in St. Petersburg since 1990, and he credited Mayor Rick Kriseman and the city council for the economic renaissance that Forney says works to UPC’s advantage.

“I have never been happier or prouder to live or work in this city,” Forney said. “Our city has blossomed in a way I have never seen during my time here, and it has become for us one of our most important recruiting tools.”

Forney traced the growth of UPC, which was founded in 1999 and has been in downtown St. Pete for its entire 19-year history.

“When I got to the company in 2012, we  we wrote about $200 million of premium, almost all of it in Florida. We had 40 employees and leased one floor in the BB&T building,” Forney said. “Today, six years later, we write $1.1 billion in premium in 12 states. We own two buildings in downtown St. Petersburg and we have over 275 employees with a median wage over $80,000.”

In 2016, the company hired 77 people. It hired 108 people in 2017 and 84 people through the first nine months of 2018, Forney said.

While council members supported the plan, two council members raised questions about UPC’s planned new jobs. Council members Steve Kornell and Gina Driscoll urged the company to hire city residents, as well as recruiting college graduates from outside the city.

The term sheet includes a financial incentive to the company of $10,000 for each resident of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area who is hired and retained, with a cap of $250,000, said Alan DeLisle, city development administrator.

Council member Darden Rice said the city is contemplating a building code that would require city buildings to be constructed to LEED standards, and she said the city would like to see more of those kinds of projects.

UPC’s vision is to be the premier provider of property insurance, and the company tries to be the best at everything it does, including the proposed headquarters project, Forney said.

“We are going to build something that all of us can be very proud of and something that will be an enduring symbol of the economic resurgence of the city of St. Pete,” Forney said.

The UPC deal is the most recent in a string of corporate expansions in the city, DeLisle told the City Council. He cited 800 new jobs at Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF), Jabil Inc.’s (NYSE: JBL) headquarters expansion that will create 300 new jobs, Power Design’s 500 jobs, and 165 new jobs at Taylor Media.

“We’re on the map,” DeLisle said. “You’ve got something special going on here.”

McIntosh MarketingComment