Staff Photo: John Bohn Governor Nathan Deal, left, shares a moment with Rick Williams, Co-CEO of Primerica during a grand opening of the global headquarters of Primerica held at 1 Primerica Parkway in Duluth on Friday.
DULUTH -- As he told stories of the company's modest early years, Primerica founder Art Williams was also proud of its new, shiny building, unveiled on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon with plenty of fanfare.
As he turned to Gov. Nathan Deal, Williams made no mistake how he felt about Primerica's stance among Georgia's companies.
"I just wish you and your staff knew how truly great this company was, and is," said Williams, who recalled the first home office in Minneapolis, shared with a real estate company, in a one-story brick building. "It changed an industry. It's done more to help this world than Coca-Cola and Chick-Fil-A and CNN, and all those companies combined. I think you ought to get your staff together and draft up a bill and have a Primerica holiday."
Before a crowd of hundreds, including dignitaries, employees and top earners, the financial firm, which underwrites individual term life insurance products and other financial products, unveiled the building at a ribbon-cutting ceremony called "opening day." The lively event featured upbeat music and fireworks at 1 Primerica Parkway in Duluth near the intersection of Meadow Church Road and Duluth Highway.
"There is no downtown Gwinnett, but this as close as we could be, with Sugarloaf, the Arena, the Chamber of Commerce, hotel space, good restaurants," spokesman Mark Supic said.
Officials also buried a time capsule to be opened on Feb. 10, 2077, the company's centennial celebration.
The largest office space in Gwinnett consists of 365,000 square feet across three wings, what company officials called more efficient than its previous space of more than 400,000 square feet across 10 buildings at 3100 and 3120 Breckinridge Blvd.
"We've actually got more space for people to work," President Glenn Williams said. "The space itself is more efficient, but also everything here is state of the art."
The building includes 58 conference rooms, a state-of-the-art theater with an adjoining television studio and a 248-seat cafe.
The facility can house 1,600 of the company's 1,700 Gwinnett-based employees, with the ability to add 200 more.
The $74 million investment came with county and state tax credits. In Gwinnett, Primerica will receive $2.3 million over six years beginning in 2014 when the building is on the tax digest, county spokeswoman Heather Sawyer said.
From the state, Primerica will receive $1,250 of tax credits per new job, said Alison Tyrer, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Primerica has pledged to add 35 new jobs over five years, and Glenn Williams said the company would like to go beyond that.
"This project ... should serve as a catalyst for the development of the remainder of this office park now that an anchor tenant has been located there," Sawyer said.
The company generates $1.3 billion in economic impact, Deal said.
While the company considered other locations, Glenn Williams said the only locations under serious consideration were in Gwinnett, because it's been the company's home and where the employee base is located.
"We looked at a few far-flung places, but we decided early on that we wanted to stay in Gwinnett," he said. "This was the place where we could design it like we needed it, being the first tenant in here. We could say this is the way we wanted to lay it out; even the roadways could be built to accommodate us."
It came a year and a half after the groundbreaking of the building that's built and leased by Duke Realty to Gwinnett's fourth-largest private employer, which has been in the county since 1985.
Co-CEO John Addison recalled the move to Gwinnett then when the office was, "a cemetery, truck stop and us."
As he listed all of the features and amenities of the building, Addison told the company's top earners to "use this building to build your business."
Local and state elected officials were also at the event, including Deal, who said Primerica's headquarters is an example that Georgia is on the way to becoming the No. 1 place in the world to do business.
Deal said each year too much attention is paid to new companies coming to the state.
"But we are even more pleased to have someone who has been here for such a long period of time, decide that this is where you want to grow, this is where you want to expand, this is where your international headquarters is going to be," Deal told the crowd.
Before he left the stage, Art Williams said the building is a symbolic gesture that people across the country and in Canada and Puerto Rico know that Primerica is here.
"Way after all of us are dead and gone, Primerica is here," he said. "Go build your business, Primerica's not going to let you down."