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Northwest ready to ramp up local banking presence

Northwest Bancshares is about to become a much bigger player in Buffalo Niagara banking.

Northwest agreed to buy 18 First Niagara Financial Group branches, at an expected final cost of $70 million, as KeyCorp aims to complete its acquisition of First Niagara. The Justice Department required the branches to be sold to satisfy its anti-competitive concerns. The 18 branches have about $1.7 billion in deposits.

Pennsylvania-based Northwest has eight branches in Erie and Niagara counties and is opening a ninth area location, in Orchard Park. With the 18 branches, it expects to leap to No. 4 in the region’s deposit market share rankings, with about 5 percent, still far behind M&T Bank and Key but close behind Bank of America. Northwest currently ranks No. 7, with just 0.63 percent.

Here are five more facts about Northwest as it plans to raise its local profile:

• The bank isn’t shy about making deals. Northwest has completed 37 acquisitions since going public in 1994, including a $179 million deal for LNB Bancorp in Northeast Ohio last year. Fourteen of its 37 acquisitions involved branch purchases.

• The new branches represent a big step up. Of the 18 First Niagara branches Northwest will acquire, seven have deposits of $100 million or more. By comparison, only five of Northwest’s current 150 branches Northwest are at that level.

• Geography was a plus. Northwest is based in Warren, Pa., a city of fewer than 10,000 in the northwestern part of the state. Its headquarters is about 68 miles from downtown Buffalo.

“We like that proximity,” said William J. Wagner, the chairman, president and CEO, in a Friday conference call. Northwest has a total of 14 offices in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

• The bank has a long history. Northwest traces its roots to 1896 and has built its presence into four states: Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland.

• It expects to add jobs.

“We are going to be looking for additional leadership people and production people in the Buffalo market, given our additional presence,” Wagner said.