Ken Kolker -
PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) -- After State Farm announced it was closing up shop in Portage, the mayor and other community leaders plan to meet with company officials Friday, hoping they can say something to save 600 jobs.
"This is significant to Southwest Michigan and to the city of Portage. We're very concerned about losing 600 jobs," Portage Mayor Peter Strazdas told 24 Hour News 8.
The mayor was among those taken by surprise on Thursday when State Farm announced it was closing the Kalamazoo Operations Center at 5538 Portage Road in 2019. State Farm will give its 600 employees two choices: transfer to an operations center outside of Michigan or find another job.
Employees who didn't want to be identified said they were also caught off guard when they were called into a conference room Thursday and told the center was closing. They called it a sad day.
They weren't sure what they'd do next.
The center in Portage handles claims, underwriting and other customer service. It's among 11 centers State Farm will close over the next eight years.
The moves come as State Farm announced a pre-tax operating loss of more than $1 billion last year.
The company said the decision "was based on efforts to best serve customers by gaining efficiency through streamlining and improving processes, leveraging technology, and concentrating employees in larger locations."
"These employees will continue to have job opportunities in other State Farm locations, but we also understand for personal reasons some of these employees may not be able to relocate," State Farm spokesman Justin Tomczak said. "But that will be a personal decision for them."
Mayor Strazdas said the city and Southwest Michigan First plan to meet with State Farm on Friday.
"We're going to do anything we can, everything we can, as a city to keep the company, the people, the building here," the mayor said. "If that doesn't work, we're going to see what we can do to keep them (the employees) here and the families here because they're planted in the community, they give back to the community, and we need them here."
In a statement released Thursday, state Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, urged State Farm to keep the office open.
"Today, over 600 employees learned that they will no longer be employed in Kalamazoo County. Their lives and their families' lives are changing, and my heart goes out to them," she said in a statement.
But according to the State Farm spokesman, saving the local center appears unlikely.
"While our plans will remain flexible in the future, the announcement today is a final announcement," he said.
-----Online:State Farm**Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Mayor Strazdas' last name. The error has been corrected.