When Ryan Sasson was deciding where to expand his Manhattan financial services firm to add up to 1,500 jobs, the Buffalo region stood out for a number of reasons:
• A low-cost, readily available labor supply
• Several universities in close proximity
• Its millennial population
Those three factors helped lead to Tuesday's news that Strategic Financial Solutions will open an office on Lawrence Bell Drive in Amherst later this year. The debt consolidation company plans to hire 150 people in its first year, but aims to increase that total to 1,500 jobs in five years.
"We really picked Buffalo because we thought it was the right place for us to grow our business," said Sasson, the company's CEO and co-founder. "We felt the energy that was happening there and it was something we wanted to feed off of and really grow for the next decades to come in Buffalo."
Strategic Financial Solutions plans to start in temporary space next month, and then move into its permanent space, which is owned by Uniland Development Co., later this summer.
The company, founded in 2007, has about 500 employees in New York City. It is not a debt collection firm. Instead, the company works with clients who are burdened by credit card debt, to resolve their financial problems. "It's really to get them out of debt without declaring bankruptcy," Sasson said.
It plans to hire for jobs with starting salaries in the mid-$30,000 range, as well as sales jobs that average $70,000 to $80,000 and some management positions. Some sales jobs can earn "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Sasson said.
The state's economic development agency, Empire State Development Corp., is expected to provide financial support for the project, but neither Sasson nor Empire State Development provided details of those financial incentives Tuesday.
The decision to locate the company's second office in Buffalo was aided by two local entrepreneurs: Z80 labs co-founders Jordan Levy and Ronald Schreiber, who invested in Strategic Financial Solutions several years ago.
It was Levy who drove Sasson around the Buffalo region, telling him about the city's new developments and its rich history, and investments fostered by Cuomo's Buffalo Billion program. Sasson visited Buffalo Niagara a few times, attending a Bills game and visiting the Zoo with his child, before choosing the Amherst location.
"This is a fantastic project for Western New York," said Howard Zemsky, president, CEO and commissioner of Empire State Development, in a statement. "If anyone can pull off a deal of this magnitude, it's Jordan Levy."
Strategic Financial Solutions wanted to expand its operations somewhere within an easy car or plane ride of its home base, and Buffalo was among the places that made sense, Sasson said.
Along with the attributes Sasson felt were in Buffalo's favor, he viewed Buffalo as a place "where people enjoy working. They take real pride in their work," he said.
Economic incentives also factored into Strategic Financial Solutions' decision. Sasson declined to reveal what other states dangled to try to attract the expansion, or which specific cities the company analyzed.
"We did not make the decision because of money," Sasson said. "Frankly, other states were willing to offer us better economic deals."
Even though the company is just setting up its operations here, Strategic Financial Solutions has already worked with Buffalo law firms and an accounting firm. And Sharon Randaccio, whose firm, Performance Management Partners, is based here, serves as Sasson's business coach.
The company helps consumers reach settlements with creditors. Its employees work with clients to set aside monthly payments in an escrow-like account, and typically reach settlements with creditors of about 45 cents on the dollar.
"We look to get them out of debt in about three and a half years as opposed to the 30 to 50 years they would be paying, if they paid just the minimum payment," Sasson said.
The average age of its clients is 55 years old. They have typically accumulated debt due to factors like a divorce, health crisis or job loss.
"We're in heavy growth mode still," Sasson said. "We haven't leveled off. It's one of the reasons why we decided to look at alternate areas for us to grow into."