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Executives of the Royal Bank of Canada voiced confidence in the economic potential of Western New York Wednesday as they celebrated the opening of a Buffalo commercial branch office.

"The opening of our Buffalo branch demonstrates the confidence we have in the traditional and increasingly profitable links that exist between Canada and the United States," said John E. Cleghorn, president and chief operating officer. "The U.S. is our key market outside Canada."

The branch office, which is located in the Olympic Towers at 300 Pearl St., has an eight-person staff of Canadians and Americans. The office is located on the 10th floor and the bank has the ninth floor available for expansion.

Services offered by the bank will include trade facilities and traditional lending, Cleghorn said, as well as foreign exchange, rate risk management, mergers and acquisitions, and correspondent banking.

"(Buffalo's) strategic location on one of the busiest north-south corridors on the continent makes it a great launch site for the kind of cross-border business we want to do," he said.

J. S. (Jim) Bell, Buffalo branch manager, said the bank will focus on lending to "middle market" companies, those doing $25 million to $300 million a year in sales.

He said it will seek to do business with "well capitalized" companies.

The first Canadian bank in Buffalo, Royal Bank of Canada is that country's largest, and North America's third largest. Its assets, in American dollars, total $100 billion, and it operates in 31 countries.

Bell noted that the area's economy seems "reasonably solid, especially compared to other parts of the Northeast, which have too much built-in inflation."

He added that Canada's ongoing constitutional crisis should not seriously affect trade with the United States.

"If you look at what's happened in the last two days -- the Canadian dollar strengthening and the stock market remaining stable -- I think the world and Canadians feel that problems can be worked out," he said.

"I foresee no imminent collapse of Canada that can affect our business," Bell said.

Cleghorn said Royal Bank started planning a Buffalo branch a year before the trade agreement, after clients in Ontario expressed interest in doing business in the area.

The reception was attended by about 100 people, including Mayor Griffin and members of the area business community.

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