Health care firm to bring 100 jobs to Belfast; Athenahealth plans to employ up to 700 in future

This story was published on Nov. 30, 2007 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

BELFAST – The blizzard of paperwork involved with processing health care claims is like a truck buried up to the axle in Maine mud and it’s well past time to pull it out.

That was the analogy used by Jonathan Bush, chairman and chief executive officer of Massachusetts-based athenahealth, when he announced on Thursday his firm’s decision to purchase a large office building that is part of the Bank of America complex. Athenahealth Maine, the name of the company’s new branch, plans to provide 100 jobs in the next few months and create as many as 700 jobs here within the next few years, he said.

Bush, 38, a summer resident of North Haven and first cousin of President Bush, said the company looked at sites across New England and New York but ultimately decided on Maine because of its strong reputation for providing excellent employees and the availability of the Belfast facility.

The 130,000-square-foot complex is situated on a 53-acre campus off U.S. Route 1 and was the original building for MBNA when it located in Belfast in 1995. When Bank of America purchased MBNA two years ago, it consolidated its services into another, larger office complex on an adjacent site.

Athenahealth is paying $6.1 million for the site. The purchase is expected to be completed by the end of February, and the business will open shortly thereafter.

“This is an incredible day for us,” Bush told the more than 100 public officials, business owners and area residents who attended the morning announcement. “We are health care. What’s nice about what we are starting to do is we’re going to solve or chip away at the real problems.”

Athenahealth describes itself as the country’s only national one-stop processor of electronic, Web-based services between health care providers and insurance companies. Bush said the myriad of forms and filings confronting health care providers are a resource-gobbling and time-consuming burden on physicians that athenahealth is poised to eliminate.

Bush said managing medical paperwork reminded him of the time his truck got stuck in the mud on North Haven and his neighbors rallied to pull it out.

“We will get [our truck] out,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

Athenahealth currently serves nearly 12,000 physicians and medical groups in 33 states and is expanding rapidly. Bush said employees at the Belfast facility would process paperwork for the company’s clients, issue checks and work one-on-one with insurance companies when claims are questioned or disputed.

Bush and Todd Park founded athenahealth 10 years ago in a basement office in Watertown, Mass., and it has grown to the point where it now has approximately 600 employees. The company hopes to double in size within the next few years, according to James MacDonald, its chief operating officer.

Maine & Co., a private, nonprofit organization credited with helping to attract athenahealth, said the jobs it provides will be a step up from those at MBNA. No salary figures were released.

“If you look at what was there before, it was a call center, and that’s fine,” said Matt Jacobson, president and CEO of Maine & Co. “That’s a certain level of work. Athena is going to put an operations center there. These are going to be higher-level kinds of positions.”

Athenahealth went public earlier this year and raised more than $80 million in its initial stock offering. Bush said the company has been expanding its revenues at a rate of 30 percent a year. Stocks that were initially offered at $18 per share now sell in the $40 range. In its first quarterly report for the three months ending Sept. 30, the company posted a $500,000 profit on revenues of $26.2 million.

The Boston Business Journal cited athenahealth in the Best Places to Work in Massachusetts during 2007.

When asked what made his company such a great place to work, the energetic Bush quipped, “Well, we have superhero day,” when employees come to work dressed like their favorite superhero. The company also offers good wages, benefits and stock options, he said.

For athenahealth to land in Maine required a team effort, and Bush commended Gov. John Baldacci and his economic development team, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and Michael Michaud and Maine & Company with playing a major role in putting together the incentive package to convince the company to expand to Maine. The Belfast office complex is situated in one of the state’s Pine Tree Development Zones that offer tax incentives to new companies moving to Maine.

“Folks, Maine should be proud of the way everybody pulled together,” Baldacci said. “This is a challenging time in our economy and hundreds of people will get a chance to realize their dreams. This is a bright day when you look out there and realize what is happening in the Maine economy.”

Sen. Snowe said she had been trying to convince athenahealth to consider Maine for more than three years. She said the Bush family was familiar with the state and she thanked him “for giving Maine workers a chance. … Maine has put its best foot forward. When it comes to creating jobs in Maine, we are all in this together.”

Rep. Allen said he and his family spent last weekend in Belfast and that as he walked around the city and spoke to residents the foremost thing on their mind was jobs and economic development. He predicted that with Maine’s help, athenahealth would make a difference in controlling the cost of health care.

“It’s a big deal for Maine and Belfast, but it’s a great deal for athenahealth because of the work force,” Allen said. “It’s the kind of cutting edge company we want to see in the state of Maine.”

Bush said the company intended to fill 100 positions within its first year in Belfast and would continue to ramp up its employee levels in succeeding years. A job fair, planned for the first of the year, will be announced within the next few weeks, he said. To learn more about the company, visit athenahealth.com.

MBNA had been one of Maine’s largest employers with 4,500 at its peak. The merger with Bank of America led to the closure of satellite offices in Portland, Farmington, Presque Isle and Fort Kent. Bank of America retained 1,700 MBNA jobs and continues to operate in Belfast, Orono and Brunswick.

Walter Griffin can be reached at wgriffin@bangordailynews.net or 338-9546

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A1 for Friday, Nov. 30, 2007

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