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Distorted views in Niagara County Legislature's fit of pique ignores some real growth for region

Niagara Falls legislators just may have earned for themselves this year's political grandstanding award for unanimously passing a resolution condemning the move by First Niagara Bank of its headquarters from Pendleton to Buffalo.

They followed that up by calling on the State Legislature to pass a law barring Empire State Development, the state's development arm, from funding moves of businesses from one county to another.

First Niagara is a success story. Its "move" really is an expansion, because it costs Niagara County no jobs and adds many more to the regional economy. Apparently, this bothers the Niagara County Legislature.

First Niagara Bank should be applauded, not criticized, for maintaining and bringing to this region exactly what it needs -- jobs.

The bank recently announced it would move its headquarters from Pendleton, at South Transit and Tonawanda Creek roads, into the Larkin Building in Buffalo. There will be no loss of employment in Niagara County, but rather a growth of 300 new high-paying jobs for both Niagara and Erie counties. Those are the conditions of the assistance grant -- not moving 300 jobs, but adding 300 net new jobs in Western New York.

Only about 50 of the 315 workers at the Pendleton site will be transferred to Buffalo, and those jobs will be replaced in Pendleton by new ones. The old headquarters will remain at full capacity as a "back office" site.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross complained about not finding out about the deal until 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10, the night before it was announced. But bank officials dispute that account, insisting that they tried to be transparent and open. Why would they have tried to hide the fact that they are remaining in the region, and in Niagara County where they employ more than 500 people, with expectations of hiring more?

The bank, which has doubled in size in the past quarter, has just announced that it is raising $400 million in a stock offering to help it continue to grow. And it's staying right here as it becomes more than a local bank.

The bank is a business, and its health is just as important to the 500-plus workers in Niagara County as it is to the new employees who will be added. Relocation of its headquarters was a business decision, one that puts it into the regional economic center. That's likely to be an important part of keeping the bank healthy.

Granted, there's a lot of history attached to the bank, which formerly was known as Lockport Savings Bank until early 2000. It has been an institution cemented into the fabric of the community, and one that carried many folks through the Depression.

But the bank has maintained a strong commitment to Western New York by remaining, creating new jobs and bringing real hope for more to come. It stayed solidily within the region, growing without draining jobs from Niagara County. That's a plus for this area, whether the Niagara County Legislature thinks so or not.

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