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1,500 jobs planned by debt company tied to $10 million in tax credits

A Manhattan financial services firm that plans to bring up to 1,500 jobs to Amherst could receive up to $10 million in state tax credits, but must deliver on its job pledges to collect those incentives.

Strategic Financial Solutions officials on Wednesday visited the home of the debt consolidation company's future expansion site, where it aims to build its work force to about 150 people in the first year.

Strategic Financial Solutions plans to invest $20 million in its expansion, at 115 Lawrence Bell Drive, in the next couple of years, said Jordan Levy, a local investor in the company. The $20 million includes $8 million to $10 million to build out the space, along with expenditures such as employee training and advertising for new hires.

The project is eligible for Excelsior Job Program tax credits through Empire State Development. The incentives are tied to jobs and wages, said Howard Zemsky, Empire State Development's president, CEO and commissioner.

Zemsky described the tax credits as "pay for performance."

"It's not a question of (awarding) them, then having to recapture," he said. "You don't ever get it unless you meet your ramp-up job commitments."

[Related: Financial services company aims to employ 1,500 in Amherst]

Zemsky called the incentives a "popular tool" that Empire State Development uses to compete for projects.

"There are always options that companies have when they think about places to go," he said. "We're often competing with New Jersey, we're competing with Pennsylvania, we're competing with the Carolinas. We consider this a big win."

Levy and Ryan Sasson, Strategic Financial Solutions' CEO, described the incentives as helpful but not decisive in the firm's choice about where to expand. Levy said inducements offered by other states, whom he did not identify, were "significantly greater."

"It's really not going to define whether we succeed or fail," Levy said of New York state's incentives. "It just helps make it a little easier to come and open up and make this business."

Strategic Financial Solutions is not a debt collection firm. Instead, it works with customers to dig out of debt, reaching settlements with creditors. The company has about 500 employees in Manhattan.

Sasson said the company has helped more than 100,000 people settle more than $750 million in debt since it was founded in 2007. Its clients typically have fallen deep into into credit card debt over a number of years, until they can't find a way out, he said.

Sasson cited the example of a customer who was the aunt of one of the company's first employees. He described her has having had $120,000 in credit card debt. With the company's help, Sasson said, the woman got out of that hole for under 50 percent of the debt, in less than four years.

The company also tries to help customers avoid falling back into the debt trap, Sasson said.

"We do a lot of education while they're in our program to try to make sure we don't have repeat business," he said. "That's not what we're looking for."

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.

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