Staff Reporter

In what is expected to be the biggest single influx of jobs into downtown Los Angeles in a decade, Prudential HealthCare has announced plans for a 1,400-employee regional customer service center.

Between 1,100 and 1,200 of those employees will be new hires, with at least half of them coming from the downtown area, said Rocky Delgadillo, a member of Mayor Richard Riordan’s L.A.’s Business Team.

The center will occupy 300,000 square feet in the former First Interstate Bank operation center, which Prudential is subleasing from Wells Fargo Bank.

Approximately 300 employees will be shifted to the new center from Prudential’s exisiting offices in Woodland Hills and elsewhere in the Western United States, Prudential spokeswoman Peggy Frank Lyle said.

“We’ve already begun recruiting,” she said. “We need a tremendous amount of new employees.”

The new jobs are primarily entry-level positions that will pay an average annual salary of about $25,000, Delgadillo said.

The center is slated to be fully operational by the fourth quarter of 1997, and will be one of four regional offices that Prudential is opening to consolidate billing and other customer service paperwork. The other centers will be in Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

Downtown L.A. had been one of six sites being considered for the California regional office, with Norwalk the other prime candidate, Delgadillo said.

Riordan pointed to Prudential’s decision as an indication that his administration’s “business-friendly initiatives are paying big dividends.”

“This is one of the biggest wins for downtown in a decade, and it’s proof that Los Angeles is on a roll,” Riordan said.

The decision to locate in downtown L.A. is subject to a final agreement on money the city offered Prudential during negotiations, Frank Lyle said. That money is to be used for training new employees, she said.

In addition, because the downtown location is in one of the city’s designated “revitalization zones,” Prudential will be eligible for state tax breaks that could total several million dollars annually, Delgadillo said.

Prudential’s announcement comes on the heels of a partial agreement last month between the city and five local HMOs over business taxes. That agreement clarifies how the city assesses revenue generated outside its borders by health plans.

Each of the five HMOs involved in the dispute, including Prudential, does a substantial amount of its business outside L.A., and the agreement is expected to save the companies several million dollars a year in taxes.

A final agreement on HMO business taxes, including the rate at which they will be taxed and deductions they will be allowed, has not been reached.

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