Navy Federal Credit Union Breaks Records and Continues to Expand
A story of the triumph and incentives
When it comes to rolling out the red carpet for America’s veterans, the Emerald Coast takes a back seat to nowhere. Just ask Navy Federal Credit Union, the financial services behemoth that found a second home in Escambia County and is growing by leaps and bounds.
Navy Federal is headquartered in Vienna, Virginia, where it was founded at the height of the Great Depression. At the end of 1933, Navy Federal had 49 members, 18 borrowers and assets of $450. From that unimaginably modest beginning, Navy Federal grew exponentially.
Today, Navy Federal is the largest retail credit union in the United States. It holds $88.9 billion in assets and serves 7 1/2 million members from its 300 branches located throughout the world.
The campus north of Pensacola is a jewel in the credit union’s crown and a success story frequently studied by academics, business people and taxpayers looking to understand the role of state and local incentives in growing the economy.
Pensacola’s military bases made Escambia County an obvious location for a small office at the start of the 21st century. What was not obvious was that the needs of Navy Federal’s customers and the vision of state and local leaders would dovetail into a blueprint to bring 10,000 jobs with a payroll that will ultimately total $425 million and a $1 billion capital investment into the local economy by 2026.
Navy Federal opened its Pensacola office in 2003, and the company’s leaders soon came to appreciate the competence and work ethic of the local workforce, not to mention the weather, the beaches, and the Southern hospitality for which the Emerald Coast is famous.
By 2012, Navy Federal, a perennial ranking member of Fortune Magazine’s annual listing of the nation’s best places to work, had earned the Sunshine State’s full faith and credit in the form of economic development funding from the Industry Recruitment, Retention & Expansion Fund Grant Program, which was administered by the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement.
Grants from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, local tax abatements and Escambia County’s economic development incentive program followed.
The return on investment is substantial: Today, Navy Federal employs 6,200 workers in Pensacola with a payroll of $270 million.
And those jobs offer excellent salaries and benefits. For example, a member service representative earns an average $44,649 in salary and additional cash compensation, above the Florida average. Other benefits at Navy Federal include a 401(k) match, company-paid health insurance for employees and their families, benefits for part-time workers, tuition reimbursement, and onsite amenities including food service and basic health care.
Clay Ingram, who represents the area in the state House of Representatives and also serves as president and CEO of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, characterizes Navy Federal’s investment as a “generational game changer.”
“It’s hard to even put into words what it means to us long term to have an employer of that scale employing people,” he said.
Navy Federal added 750 full-time positions in the greater Pensacola area last year, making “2017 another record-breaking year for Navy Federal, and that’s due in part to the success we’ve had in Northwest Florida,” said Bill Pearson, the credit union’s public relations specialist in corporate communications.
“We continue to recruit and hire the cream of the crop from across the Panhandle and that has allowed us to not only maintain but improve our member service.”
Also in 2017, Navy Federal started the Talent Optimization Pipeline course, a year-long pilot program that successfully trained eight entry-level employees to fill badly needed positions in IT services.
Heading into 2018, the credit union’s Pensacola plans call for a major expansion in the national call center, as well as beefing up regional capacity in lending, mortgage loan processing and information technology.
The credit union’s rapid expansion is causing some growing pains in Pensacola, and beyond.
“We’ve become much more regionally codependent because we need to get people to and from there and other places where there are high concentrations of employees,” said Ingram, a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee. “It has absolutely played into our strategy of how to fund and maintain the transportation infrastructure.”
The need for a trained workforce is presenting additional challenges, which the leadership of Navy Federal and three of the region’s other large employers — Gulf Power, Baptist Health Care and Sacred Heart Health System — are addressing with the creation of Achieve Escambia.
The initiative attempts to align efforts from “cradle to career” to assure the next generation is well educated and work ready.
They understand the current program as it sits probably couldn’t crank out the workforce they need, so they took the bull by the horns and have become part of the solution … rather than just complain there’s not a large enough workforce,” Ingram said. “The complaint I’ve heard … since I was a kid is that companies won’t come here because we don’t have a large enough trained workforce. So, not only is it helping those four companies … but I think it will help everyone to have a real focus on workforce education training.”