By Jim Ross - email
Greg Burton was born and raised in Charleston. He graduated from Charleston Catholic High School and the University of Charleston. Except for a short time when he attended the University of Kentucky to earn a master's degree, he's always lived in the Capitol City.
In the early part of his career, he worked in the banking and health care industries.
Burton was city manager of Charleston when he was recruited to join then-Gov. Bob Wise as his secretary of administration.
"I like challenges. I like going in trying to fix things," he said.
It wasn't long before Wise gave Burton one of the biggest challenges in state government in recent years: fixing the broke and broken state-run workers' compensation system. Fraud and political interference kept unfunded liabilities high and progress slow to nonexistent. Workers' compensation was often listed as one reason companies avoided investing in West Virginia, thus hindering economic growth.
In March 2003, Wise wanted a solution to the workers' compensation problem.
"He asked me to come over, take a look at the system and see what needed to be done," Burton recalled.
So on April 1, 2003, Burton became administrator of the workers' compensation system.
Joe Manchin was elected governor in 2004, and when he took office the next year he wanted the Legislature to accelerate the privatization process. From February through December of 2005, Burton worked on getting what would be BrickStreet Mutual Insurance up and running. And on Jan. 1, 2006, it took over the state workers' compensation system as a privately run company with a monopoly on workers' compensation in the state.
"It's not very often that you get to work on something that transforms the state that you live in," Burton said.
Before privatization, some companies would not consider locating in West Virginia because of the high price of workers' compensation premiums, Burton said. But since privatization, rates have gone down 60 percent for several reasons, he said.
The first involved legislative changes regarding benefits and payments. The second included changes to provide quicker and better medical services to injured workers so they could return to their jobs more quickly. The third involved administrative efficiencies.
And now there's competition. Since BrickStreet's monopoly ended in 2008, West Virginia employers now have 200 carriers to choose from. But BrickStreet still has about half the market in the state, "which is great for us," Burton said.
And BrickStreet is finding new markets outside the state, he said. It writes policies in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois and Pennsylvania. In the past six months, the company has opened regional offices in Chicago and Charlotte, Burton said. By 2015, BrickStreet should be doing business in 12 states and the District of Columbia, Burton said.
Those states are West Virginia, administered out of the Charleston office; Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, administered from Chicago; and Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, administered from Charlotte.
In February, BrickStreet passed the $100 million mark in policies written outside West Virginia.
BrickStreet today has a work force of about 340 people. All but 40 work at the main office on Quarrier Street in downtown Charleston. The company writes about 16,000 policies and collects about $275 million a year in premiums, he said. BrickStreet does not track the number of workers it covers, he said.
According to BrickStreet's 2011 financial report, the company has assets of about $1.6 billion, liabilities of $1.1 billion and policyholders' surplus of about $487 million.
The A.M. Best Co. rating service gave BrickStreet an A- rating, citing its surplus, reserving methodology, investment strategy, loss control policies and procedures.