ETA Benefits Group, a Tamaqua-based employee benefits and insurance advisory firm, this year marks a decade in business. The company celebrated the milestone with local and state officials on Thursday.

Since 1999, ETA Benefits has grown from a one-person agency specializing in group benefits to a five-employee firm offering a wide range of policies and coverage to both individuals and businesses of all sizes - from sole proprietors to large corporations.

"What started out 10 years ago as a one-person operation has steadily evolved into a business far exceeding my expectations," said Joseph Pilla, ETA Benefits founder and president. "Initially, I thought I'd focus on a base of clients and work out of my home, but after the first year I realized there were many businesses and people who needed my assistance, so I took steps to meet that demand."

Early on, Pilla discovered the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ), a newly minted program offering tax benefits and other incentives to businesses that operate in underdeveloped areas and hire locals. In 2001, he decided to open his first office in a KOZ-designated property located in downtown Tamaqua, just miles from where he grew up.

As business continued to grow, Pilla hired Gar Thomas, and Ed Titus, two local individuals, to help manage the client base. With their diverse experience, the company established a loyal following.

"We demonstrated our ability to be the best out there in employee benefits," he said. "People trusted us, believed in our methods, and respected our advice."

With the success, Pilla decided to expand the company's portfolio by adding property and casualty coverages. That included both personal lines (auto and home) and commercial lines (business property, liability and workers' compensation). The new division was officially created in 2006 with the hiring of Denise Wolfe as director. Wolfe brought 20-plus years experience to the table.

A year later, Pilla entered into an agreement with the Strategic Independent Agents Alliance (SIAA), a national insurance partnering alliance that gives independent agents collective strength and bargaining power. That move gave ETA instant access to more competitive property and casualty insurance programs.

From the very beginning, Pilla's goal has been to serve as an independent link between insurance carriers and employers.

"We don't just sell a policy and walk away," he said, "we're there to answer questions, and sort through any issues that inevitably crop up. It's that extra level of service that sets us apart."

Today, nearly 70 percent of small businesses fail before their 10th anniversary, according to the Small Business Administration. The three factors that have made his success possible, Pilla explained, are his family, a highly experienced and dedicated team of employees and the support of other local businesses.

"One of our initiatives is to help people and businesses become better purchasers of health care services and better consumers of those services," he said. "That means three things: helping our clients strategically navigate various plan designs and options among carriers, informing them about prevention and wellness programs and educating them on the debate over health care reform."

In addition to its Tamaqua headquarters, ETA has expanded to the Lehigh Valley. In 2007, Pilla hired associate Lori Tucker to open a new market. Before founding his firm in 1999, Pilla worked with Tucker at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown.

ETA Benefits Group represents over 30 insurance companies including Capital Blue Cross, Highmark Blue Shield, HealthAmerica, Delta Dental, Travelers, Donegal, MetLife, Hartford, and many other top rated health, life, property and casualty insurance carriers.

More information is available at (570) 668-6800, jpilla@etabenefits.com, or at http://www.etabenefits.com.