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L.A.-based Farmers Insurance expanding to Central Pa.

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In agriculture-rich Pennsylvania, there is no shortage of farmers.

But with the exception of those commercials with the catchy jingle, there has been a lack of Farmers Insurance Group agents in the commonwealth — until recently.

About two years ago, the Los Angeles-based company and nation's third largest personal lines property and casualty insurance group expanded into Pennsylvania. Now it is migrating inward from Philadelphia to Central Pennsylvania.

Over the last few months, four agents have opened offices in the midstate. Those agents are in Lower Paxton Township, East Lampeter Township, New Oxford and Palmyra.

"In order for us to be No. 1, we felt the East Coast was the best means to make that happen," said Toby Brazwell, an agency distribution sales specialist in King of Prussia, Montgomery County, who is tasked with recruiting, training and performance managing agents in Central Pennsylvania.

Farmers had sold its product line in Pennsylvania through independent insurance firms before making the decision to put captive agents here.

"We're looking to expand as quickly as we can," Brazwell said, expecting there will be at least 12 agents in Central Pennsylvania by year's end. "It could be up to 20."

Farmers currently focuses on a 10-county area of Central Pennsylvania, including all five in the Business Journal's primary coverage area. Brazwell said the company is not looking to saturate the market, but it will fill needs as they arise.

LaMont Hess, who runs the Dauphin County office and was the first to get started in the area back in April, said demand exists in a state dominated by Farmers' competitors, including State Farm Insurance and Allstate Corp., the top two personal lines insurers.

"I'm busy enough to bring on a producer," he said, also known as an associate. His goal is to have an office of about five people by his third year.

Hess has more than 20 years of Farmers experience, having spent 17 in Las Vegas and the last two in Cleveland as a sales manager before moving to the Harrisburg area.

"The cost to open an office can vary tremendously by location, office facility constraints, furniture needs, staffing and other factors," he said.

Like its peers, Farmers promotes bundling policies and is pushing all agents to be able to sell all of its services, Brazwell said. Training is the essential component to its success, he said, referring to the company's award-winning University of Farmers program.

"We want to be a one-stop shop," Brazwell said. "And we really want to focus on individual needs and making sure the insurance is just the right fit. We assess the needs and are more of a consultant for our customers."

Outside the commercials featuring actor J.K. Simmons, familiarity with the Farmers brand in Pennsylvania is not really there yet, he acknowledged. But the company is encouraging its agents to have a multi-pronged approach to marketing in place to attract customers, he said.

The website currently generates most of the leads, Hess said. He also is pushing out targeted mailings and using telemarketing to solicit business.

"Farmers wants to grow, and we're competitive," he said.

The company is on pace to have at least 40 agents this year between the Philadelphia region and Central Pennsylvania, Brazwell said.

Farmers in the market

Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group began its migration into Pennsylvania in 2011 with the opening of a training and recruiting center in the Philadelphia region. Central Pennsylvania franchises took shape this year.

Here are the local agents and office locations so far:

LaMont Hess, 4813 Jonestown Road, Suite 106, Harrisburg

Robert Pisani, 2160 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster

Nicole Fuhrman, 111 Lincoln Way East, New Oxford

Nora Hoffman, 32 W. Main St., Palmyra

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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