Eagan pharmacy benefits management company Prime Therapeutics said Tuesday that it will add 300 jobs in the coming years and expand into new office space.

With the help of a forgivable $500,000 loan from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, the company will begin remodeling a building formerly occupied by Buffets Inc. in January, and plans to start moving employees in during the first quarter of the year. About 200 of the new jobs will be in Eagan.

Prime Therapeutics is owned by 12 Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, which launched the company in 1987 to manage its pharmacy contracts.

As part of the agreement with the state, Prime must hire the workers in the next two or three years. The firm will be looking to add information technology workers and business analysts, with pay between $73,000 and $83,000, CEO Eric Elliott said.

In a morning event at the Eagan Community Center, Elliott said the effort by the city, county and state helped make it an easy decision to "put down deeper roots in Eagan and Dakota County."

"We did look at other areas outside the state," he said, adding that the unemployment rate for technology professionals and business analysts is low -- less than 3 percent.

"The positives of having a facility here allows us to continue to attract quality people," he said. "So, it's the right place, the right kind of people and the desire not to spread too many operations across the country disjointed from our core operations."

The expansion is another piece of positive news to help offset job losses in Eagan, including the pending closure of the Lockheed Martin campus in 2013, which will cost the city more than 1,000 jobs. Hundreds of former Northwest Airlines jobs have also vanished, and the city's biggest employer, Thomson Reuters, has had sporadic layoffs.

But the city announced in November that a new, $75 million to $100 million Internet data center will be built next year, and officials hope it will spur high-tech job growth.

"We are really pleased to see Prime Therapeutics stay here and continue to expand and grow here," Eagan Mayor Mike McGuire said.

Prime Therapeutics handles claims processing, formulary management, mail service and pharmacy network management for about 19 million people. While the bulk of its work has been for those covered by Blue Cross health insurance, last year Prime started handling pharmacy benefits for the University of Minnesota and has broadened into specialty pharmaceuticals.

The company has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, and is planning ahead for more growth in the individual market in 2014, when health care reforms kick in. It had 250 employees as recently as 2003, but now has 2,100 employees in nine U.S. cities. About half are in Minnesota.

It also added 300 jobs during the past year in Eagan and Bloomington, where it leases seven floors in Normandale Office Park.

Prime Therapeutics has signed a 10-year lease on the new building at 1305 Corporate Center Drive, which has about 90,000 square feet of space and is across the road from the company's headquarters near Interstate 494 and Pilot Knob Road. The building has been empty since Buffets Inc. moved to another location in Eagan in 2009.

Elliott said the company will put about $5 million into upgrades, including new carpeting and furniture in the vacant building.

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