Highmark celebrates 10th anniversary of HQ

The 10th anniversary of the opening of the Highmark West Virginia headquarters at 614 Market St., Parkersburg, was celebrated Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Former Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Greg Smith was praised for his role in making the company’s downtown Parkersburg headquarters a reality during a celebration Wednesday of the 10th anniversary of the building’s opening.

But Smith described the project as a team effort that did not begin with him.

“Actually, the people that started this thought process (were) our employees,” he said in the lobby of what is now known as Highmark West Virginia.

Speaking to a crowd of dozens of employees and local officials, Smith recalled holding breakfasts with workers to share information about the commercial health insurer and receive their feedback. Although they all worked for the same organization, those employees were spread throughout multiple buildings downtown.

“Invariably, when it came to the question-and-answer period, someone would bring up the fact that we all needed some place to be together,” Smith said.

Former Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Greg Smith speaks during the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the downtown Parkersburg headquarters for the company, now known as Highmark West Virginia. The 127,000-square-foot building at 614 Market St. houses nearly 500 employees. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

The company headquarters then was located in the Union Trust building at 700 Market St. Working with city and county officials, Mountain State officials developed a plan to build a new, $27 million, 127,000-square-foot building across Seventh Street on the former site of the Chancellor Hotel. Parkersburg officials assisted with a property swap and Community Development Block Grant funding, while Wood County Economic Development provided a loan for the project, Smith said.

Current Highmark President Jim Fawcett said the main goal when the building was planned was staying in Parkersburg.

“This is our community,” he said. “This is where the company has been headquartered for decades.”

It’s a decision local officials appreciated then and now.

“As downtown goes, so goes the City of Parkersburg,” said Mayor Tom Joyce, who was a member of Parkersburg City Council when the new building was announced.

The last three leaders of Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield/Highmark West Virginia — from left, Fred Earley, Greg Smith and current President Jim Fawcett — converse Wednesday following a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the company’s headquarters in downtown Parkersburg. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“We’re really excited to have Highmark as a partner,” said Lindsey Piersol, director of Wood County Economic Development. “This building, I think, should set an example for what others want to do in downtown.”

Nearly 500 people work in the facility, which is a boon to the downtown area, said Wendy Shriver, executive director of Downtown PKB.

“They contribute to the success of all the rest of the businesses downtown,” she said.

The construction project also supported other businesses, with more than 90 percent of the workers coming from the Mid-Ohio Valley, Fawcett said. The board of directors’ resolution to build included a stipulation that the labor would be local, Smith said.

“And that was very important to all of us,” he said.

From left, former Highmark West Virginia President Fred Earley; his predecessor, former Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Greg Smith; and Highmark West Virginia board member Jim Hayhurst listen during a ceremony Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Highmark building at 614 Market St., Parkersburg. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

In addition, the building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. It reduced the company’s water usage by more than 46 percent, electricity usage by 10 percent and greenhouse emissions by 22 percent, Fawcett said.

In the 10 years since the building opened, Highmark West Virginia’s overall economic impact in the state has totaled $262.3 million, a release from the company says. The company has generated $27.9 million in direct and indirect/induced tax payments for state and local governments, it says.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com