SAN RAFAEL -- Burnham Benefits Insurance Services, an employee benefits brokerage based in Irvine, announced it would open a branch in San Rafael, where it hopes to capitalize on proximity to San Francisco in driving growth in Northern California.

Burnham has leased 2,000 square feet of temporary office space at 4040 Civic Center Dr., suite 200,  with an initial team of seven that will set its sites on San Francisco and Silicon Valley. A permanent 6,000-square-foot office space in San Rafael is expected this summer.

Michael Michalski, a 30-year veteran of the San Fransisco insurance world, will head Burnham Benefits' San Rafael office. He previously worked for Aetna, and in 1984 he founded Optimum Benefits Company in San Francisco. Eventually, Mr. Michalski merged his company with Benefits Planning in 1989. In 2003, he sold the company to Arthur J. Gallagher and Co., an Illinois-based brokerage and consultancy with  a national presence, including San Francisco and Larkspur, where it operates subsidiary Gallagher Benefits Services.

Over the next two years, Burnham anticipates will have seven or eight brokers and consultants and an overall staff of about 20.

Mr. Michalski said Burnham Benefits' reputation and size in Southern California will help the company grow in and around the North Bay, while also noting a shifting business environment among the insurance world.

"The industry landscape has seen significant consolidation  in recent years, and the market exists for a strong, independently controlled, statewide firm that can offer vendor-carrier costs opportunities as well as improved efficiencies in technology, communications and compliance," he said in a statement announcing the San Rafael location.

Based in Irvine, Burnham Benefits specializes solely in employee benefits, with offices in Los Angeles and  Santa Barbara serving Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.  It also has locations in Oregon and Washington D.C. The company, with some 40 employees, said it has seen a growth rate of 20 percent annually over the last 10 years. Burnham said it has over 300 corporate clients, amounting to $600 million in premium volume. The benefits brokerage is also part of Burnham Gibson Financial Group.

The firm hopes to offer employers "the service of a boutique shop and the resources and infrastructure of a Fortune 500  firm," said Kirsten Allison, president and founder of Burnham Benefits.

"Quality growth is much more productive than rapid growth," Ms. Allison said. "We're ready to extend the quality of the Burnham brand to Northern California clients."

The northern expansion will create a number of new positions for the company in production, account management, operations and communications. It plans to hire a yet-to-be determined number of employees to help  grow its presence in the region.