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Even our accents help make region a back-office mecca

Buffalo is a hub for back office operations because of its low cost of doing business, its loyal and well-trained workforce, lucrative tax breaks, our proximity to major East Coast and Canadian markets, an extensive telecommunications market and — for the call centers — even the way we talk.

“You talk to the guys who set these things up, what they want is an upper Midwest accent,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

They are among the region’s numerous advantages that have drawn back-office work to the area. (Another one: The ease of travel. If it took you more than 20 minutes to get somewhere, you got lost on the way.)

But they aren’t just the call center and collections jobs of years past. Buffalo Niagara is home to major data centers, network operations and claims processing facilities.

The industry prefers the term ‘advanced business services,’ said Thomas A. Kucharski, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, which pitches the region to corporations thinking about setting up shop here.

There were an estimated 31,260 people employed in back office positions across various industries in Western New York in mid-2015, including customer service, bill collection and information technology positions, according to Labor Department data.

“So for a lot of reasons, it’s a great industry for us to be cultivating. And you look at the main companies, the folks that have those types of facilities here, and they’re like a Who’s Who of big companies,” Kucharski said. Examples include the massive BlackRock data center in CrossPoint Business Park in Amherst, and Bank of America’s call center in West Seneca.

Here’s a detailed look at several others:

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1. GEICO

The GEICO regional service center in Amherst has become a star among the company’s centers around the nation. Its strong results have attracted congratulatory visits from Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns GEICO and The Buffalo News.

State, local and business leaders aggressively wooed GEICO in 2003 to open a regional service center in the area. GEICO considered sites in Rochester, Albany, elsewhere in New York and out of state before settling on the CrossPoint Business Park in Amherst. GEICO anticipated creating 650 jobs initially and 2,500 jobs within 10 to 12 years, and received a $102 million package of tax incentives in return. It has exceeded those projections.

300 Crosspoint Parkway, Amherst

Opened: 2005

Size: 256,000 square feet

Employees when facility opened: 803

Employees today: about 2,800

Number expected to hire in 2016: 100 workers per year for the next five or six years

Tasks performed: sales, service, claims, auto damage, billing and the company’s management development program

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2. Yahoo

Yahoo estimates it has invested more than $500 million since 2009 in its data center, network operations center and call center on 65 acres in the Town of Lockport industrial park. Yahoo has received incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of sales tax breaks, property tax breaks and low-cost power, and it has room to expand.

5319 Enterprise Drive and 5365 Crown Drive, both in Town of Lockport

Opened: broke ground on Enterprise Drive building in 2009, Crown Drive building opened in 2015

Size: 350,000 square feet, combined

Employees when first facility opened: about 70

Employees today: about 200

Number expected to hire in 2016: more than one dozen jobs that are now open

Tasks performed: customer care, network operations center, data center operations and the global service desk

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3. Sodexo

Sodexo, the global corporate facilities and food-service manager, has its North America Service Center in Amherst. The company expects by spring 2017 to move into an office park near Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga. Uniland Development Co. plans to build a $21 million, three-story office building there, with Sodexo spending $6 million to furnish the interior. Uniland and Sodexo received $5.1 million in combined tax incentives for the project.

Three sites on Earhardt Drive and one on Lawrence Bell Drive, all in Amherst

Opened: Sodexo has had a presence in the Buffalo area since the early 1950s

Size: Four sites totaling 125,000 square feet

Employees today: 511

Number expected to hire in 2016: depends on turnover

Tasks performed: back-office professional services – such as accounting, information technology and human resources – for Sodexo’s operations in North America.

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4. OneTouch Direct

A Florida-based call-center company that has worked with Fortune 100 clients, OneTouch Direct was drawn here with up to $1.25 million in performance-based incentives from the state. New York and company officials promised up to 300 jobs, but employment has stagnated.

3065 Union Road, Orchard Park

Opened: October 2013

Size: 16,070 square feet with option to expand 10,000 square feet next door

Employees when the facility opened: almost 30

Employees today: 60

Number expected to hire in 2016: Somewhere between 200 and 300, a total that depends on the company winning new client contracts.

Tasks performed: inbound customer services and sales as well as outbound, customer-based marketing for some of the largest brands in the country.

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5. UnitedHealth

UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer, entered the Buffalo market after acquiring the former Definity Health, which employed up to 340 people at its facility in Amherst. UnitedHealth moved into Ciminelli Real Estate’s Colvin Woods Business Park 10 years ago, growing rapidly from a call center to a multi-service facility.

500 Colvin Woods Parkway, Town of Tonawanda

Opened: April 2005

Size: 60,000 square feet

Employees today: more than 700

Number expected to hire in 2016: declined to say

Tasks performed: handling inbound customer-service telephone calls, processing claims and helping customers manage chronic or other medical conditions through a staff of nurse case managers.

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6. HSBC

HSBC’s ties to the region date back to 1980, when it bought Marine Midland Bank. Buffalo once was the U.S. headquarters for HSBC, the world’s fourth-largest bank by total assets, and now is its second-largest American workforce behind only New York City. The bank is wrapping up a $35 million investment in its two remaining facilities in Buffalo and Depew. That comes after the bank sold off its entire upstate branch network and moved out of its longtime home in One HSBC Center.

95 Washington St., Buffalo, and 2929 Walden Ave., Depew

Employees today: 3,000 employees between the two sites

Tasks performed: The bank’s local workers handle a wide range of jobs, including information technology, compliance, risk, human resources, credit, commercial banking, private banking, operations and facilities management.

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7. Citi

Citi, once the world’s largest bank, has had a presence in the region for nearly 40 years, first with a small, check-clearing office in Cheektowaga and later with a move to the Amherst Commerce Park on Ridge Lea Road, then finally to CrossPoint Business Park in Getzville. The facility has undergone a significant expansion over the past decade. Citi also had 21 retail branches in Buffalo and Rochester but sold them to M&T Bank in 2006.

540 CrossPoint Parkway

Opened: 2006

Size: two buildings totaling 265,000 square feet

Employees when the facility opened: 650

Employees today: 1,700

Number expected to hire in 2016: 100 to 150

Tasks performed: Hosts Citi’s global corporate and investment banking division, including risk and finance.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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