San Diego wellness-program firm plans 300 jobs in Carmel

San Diego-based American Specialty Health Inc. plans to open an office in Carmel by March, employing at least 300 as the wellness-program provider establishes a presence in the Meridian Street office corridor.

Company spokeswoman Lisa Freeman described the planned Carmel facility in an email as “an operations, customer service and redundancy center” that “will grow according to our needs.”

ASH’s new office should be up and running in the next eight months, Freeman said, deferring additional questions until “closer to that date.” The 300 jobs represent almost a third of the company’s current work force.

Founded in 1987 in CEO George DeVries’ extra bedroom, ASH operates 13 subsidiaries that offer health-and-wellness services to employer groups, health plans and insurance companies nationwide. Its Healthyroads unit, for example, provides a Silver&Fit “healthy aging” program to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.

It was not immediately clear where DeVries would be based. However, sources familiar with the situation said Carmel may become the company’s headquarters.

ASH and other players in the wellness industry are expected to keep growing thanks to provisions in the Affordable Care Act that create incentives to promote health-management programs.

Privately held ASH reported revenue of $221 million last year, up 64 percent from 2009, when the company first appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he has been working with the company for about six months and is excited about the jobs ASH will bring to the city.

“I look forward to the company growing even more in Carmel,” he said, declining to elaborate.

City Council member Luci Snyder said the move came about in part as a result of positive publicity the city has garnered recently. Money magazine last year named Carmel its No. 1 “Best Place to Live” among midsize U.S. cities.

And it didn’t hurt that American Specialty Health leaders were familiar with the area: DeVries is a graduate of Culver Academies in northern Indiana and serves on its board.

“It was a combination of family connections in Indiana … and a city with a good reputation that is close to the airport and has space available,” Snyder said.

ASH already has a nine-person office on 96th Street in Indianapolis, and Freeman said those employees eventually will move to Carmel.

The company also has operations in Southlake, Texas; and Columbia, S.C., where ASH last year began working with the University of South Carolina’s Innovista incubator to create a “health technology innovation” center.

The company moved its headquarters from downtown San Diego to the suburban Sorrento Mesa neighborhood in 2010, signing a 10-year lease for 189,000 square feet of space in two buildings.

Office space in the same Wateridge Plaza development is available at an annual rate of $33 per square foot, according to an online property listing updated July 1. By comparison, offices in the building ASH chose in Carmel rent for about $20 per square foot per year.

Contractors have started renovating about 53,000 square feet of space in the four-story building at 12800 Hamilton Crossing Blvd., northwest of the intersection of Meridian and Carmel Drive.

ASH is expected to take space on the first, second and fourth floors. The Krieg DeVault law practice has offices on the third floor, and accounting firm Blue & Co. occupies a portion of the fourth floor.

Second-floor tenant FCCI Insurance will move to smaller space in another Duke Realty-owned building off River Road in September, said Tracey Pfab, regional senior vice president for the Florida-based insurer. FCCI had been seeking to sublease a portion of its Hamilton Crossing offices.

The six-building Hamilton Crossing development is surrounded by a 1-1/2-mile walking path and includes an on-site fitness center and cafe, according to property marketing materials posted online.

Such amenities likely appealed to ASH, which has earned local and national “healthy employer” recognition.

City Council President Rick Sharp said he was not aware of the ASH project before IBJ contacted him, but he called the company’s decision to put operations in Carmel “gratifying” given the city’s efforts to make Meridian/U.S. 31 a health care hub.

“We made a decision to embrace the medical arts, and it has paid great dividends,” he said, citing the presence of several hospitals and other health care operations in the area. “There’s no question the [U.S.] 31 corridor has developed into a health care destination.”

Sharp said he is not aware of any requests for tax abatements or other financial incentives tied to the ASH relocation. Neither was Snyder, chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee and president of the Carmel Economic Development Commission.

The council recently decided not to support a developer’s tax-credit application over concerns the city would be asked to help fund the proposed project, but both

Sharp and Snyder said officials are eager to create jobs—particularly executive-level positions that bring well-paid decision makers to Carmel.

“You won’t find an instance where the council denied a request to bring in an employer,” Sharp said. “We usually view it as an excellent investment.”

The pay range for ASH’s Carmel positions was not immediately clear.

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