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Strategic Financial Solutions sticks to ambitious goal: 1,500 jobs in Amherst

The rows of empty cubicles inside Strategic Financial Solutions in Amherst are a sign of what's coming: more employees.

A lot more.

The Manhattan-based firm is in the midst of a hiring push, as it aims to have at least 1,500 local employees in five years.

So far, though, the company has a long way to go. It has more than 30 employees on board and expects to double that number within several weeks, as more people get trained. Its goal is to steadily fill office space at its Lawrence Bell Drive contact center as it grows.

CEO Ryan Sasson is confident the company will meet its lofty goals, which would turn the company into one of the Buffalo Niagara region's biggest private employers.

"It is a matter of making sure that business continues to grow," he said Friday as he and VIPs cut a ribbon at the company's new facility. "All of the output of people we hire are based on the number of clients that we're servicing and helping. And so obviously we need to keep building that and reaching out to people to help them."

Strategic Financial Solutions made a splash when it announced its ambitious job target last June, as part of a planned $20 million expansion into the Buffalo Niagara market. It is not a debt collector; instead, the firm works with clients who are burdened by credit card debt to resolve their financial problems.

The company is using only about 25 percent of its total Amherst office space so far and plans to expand in phases, Sasson said. Next year, it will renovate another 40 percent of the space and move into it by the end of 2018.

Strategic Financial Solutions has plenty of stations waiting to be filled by new hires. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Strategic Financial is a new player in the local financial services sector, which has been one of the most robust parts of the Buffalo Niagara economy during the recovery, as banks and insurers sought to take advantage of lower pay scales here compared with major financial centers, like New York City.

Since the end of 2014, the region's financial activities sector, which spans banking and insurance and real estate, has grown by 5 percent, which is more than double the pace of hiring across Erie and Niagara counties during that time.

Because financial services jobs tend to pay about a third more than the average local job, the overall economic impact of the financial sector also has outpaced the local economy, rising by an average of about 4 percent a year between 2013 and 2016, compared with 1 percent annually for the entire region.

Jordan A. Levy, a local investor in Strategic Financial Solutions who helped persuade Sasson to expand the company here, said he is eager to see the office space get filled up. He likes the results so far.

"As opposed to just more hyperbole, it's actually reality," Levy said. "That's all I care about. We've had a lot of people make a lot of promises to this community and never deliver, so when these guys said, 'We're going to do this,' they're delivering. And that's the most exciting thing. It's for real."

New York State is supporting the expansion with $10 million in Excelsior Job Program tax credits. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul called the incentives "job-based."

"You have to hire the people first," Hochul said. "We're watching over the taxpayers' dollars with great care and always do."

Strategic Financial Solutions started out in temporary space at Fountain Plaza downtown earlier this year, and moved into its permanent home, inside a Uniland Development Co. building, just this week.

Client services representative Philip Kossakoski speaks with a Strategic Financial Solutions customer. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Andy Pyne, vice president of operations and a local native, said the company's expansion gives people an opportunity to remain here or move back for jobs. "There's a very common theme of Buffalo being where they wanted to be," Pyne said. "They chose to be here."

Pyne said the company will continue to train new groups of workers, most of which he said are college graduates "from Western New York or beyond."

One of those new employees, Joanna Weymouth of North Buffalo, graduated from Cornell University earlier this year. While many of her friends were eager to move to New York City to start their professional lives, she wanted to return to Buffalo. She didn't have a specific job in mind, but she got hired at Strategic Financial Solutions as a client services representative.

"I really do enjoy coming to work every day and feeling that I'm providing a service to help our clients and really doing something beneficial, helping them through what might be a difficult point in their lives," Weymouth said. Even though the company is new to the region, it has already been part of a number of charitable efforts, something else that she appreciated.

Strategic Financial Solutions' new location creates an economic ripple effect, Hochul said.

"It's getting more people buying homes here, or renting, or shopping in our stores," Hochul said. "They're stimulating the local economy."

News Business Reporter David Robinson contributed to this report.

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