Gerber builds call center for insurance sales

May 11, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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FREMONT — A new $8 million customer call center for Gerber Life Insurance is under construction in Fremont, which will house about 240 employees at its completion late this year.

According to Nestlé Nutrition of New Jersey, which now owns the Gerber brands and baby food production facilities, including Gerber Life, the new construction is a reflection of the partnership between Nestlé with Newaygo County and the state of Michigan. Last year the state and local government units agreed to establish an Agricultural Processing Renaissance Zone in Fremont in return for the company's commitment to increase employment there and keep the Gerber business in its original home community.

"It certainly is a big plus for the community because of the additional jobs it represents, and the economic stability of Gerber products and Gerber Life," said Fremont Mayor Jim Rynberg.

He said the Gerber firm, which began making baby food in Fremont in 1928 and is the largest employer in Newaygo County, "has been the anchor for this community all these years and continues to show that relationship." In addition to Gerber employees in Fremont, hundreds of West Michigan farmers have provided fruit and vegetables for Gerber products.

According to an announcement last week from Nestlé Nutrition, which is part of Swiss global conglomerate Nestlé, Gerber now employs 1,225 people, which includes 350 Gerber Life employees.

Nestlé is committed to investing $75 million and adding 200 jobs over the next 10 years in Fremont, in return for the Agricultural Processing Renaissance Zone designation. It will provide Nestlé with 15 years of tax exemptions worth an estimated $43 million. When the APR Zone was announced in December, Nestlé said the 200 new jobs would be related to the Gerber Products infant/toddler food research center in Fremont.

Michigan Agricultural Processing Renaissance Zones are geographical areas designated as tax free for eligible agricultural processing companies that plan to build a new facility or significantly improve an existing facility within the zone.

George P. Thacker is chief marketing officer of Gerber Life Insurance Co., and as such is responsible for the company's marketing, call center and product development. He joined Gerber in 2007, and lives in Darien, Conn.

Gerber Life provides life insurance for infants and children, and was acquired by Nestlé along with other Gerber businesses in 2007. On May 4, the A.M. Best Co. revised its Gerber Life outlook to negative from stable, and affirmed its financial strength rating of A (Excellent). It also affirmed its issuer credit rating of A.

In revising the outlook to negative, A.M. Best noted substantial realized losses in Gerber Life's investment portfolio and a modest decline in new business sales during the second half of 2008.

A.M. Best is a credit-rating organization serving the financial and health care industries, including insurance companies and banks.

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