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Northwest Bank opens regional headquarters in Amherst

It's a sign of how much Northwest Bank has grown in the Buffalo Niagara region that the bank felt the time was right to establish a regional headquarters here.

Before last year, that idea would have seemed unlikely. The Pennsylvania-based bank had just eight branches in Erie and Niagara counties.

But nearly one year ago, things changed. Northwest finished buying 18 First Niagara branches and jumped to No. 4 from No. 7 in deposit market share in the Buffalo Niagara region, based on Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data from 2016.

Now, with 26 branches in the market, Northwest has opened a regional headquarters in Centerpointe Corporate Park in Amherst, signing a 10-year lease with Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. A combination of current Northwest employees and new hires will work there, with the workforce likely to exceed 100 people.

Northwest poured about $1.7 million into renovating and equipping the offices. The bank is also receiving incentives from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency and Excelsior tax credits from the state.

The regional offices send a message about Northwest's connection to the Buffalo area. But the location also has strategic and practical value to the bank. Before, Northwest employees from various business functions in the region had to rely on calls, video links or email to connect.

"One of the great parts about this is that everybody's under one roof," said John Golding, Northwest's New York region president. "We used to have folks spread out all over the place. This is why we love having it all in one location. Now when you ask a question, you've just got to walk down the hall."

Jeffrey Maddigan, senior vice president and treasurer, used to work from a Northwest office building in the City of Lockport. At the Amherst hub, he's three doors down from Golding.

"The interaction is so much better," Maddigan said. "It's constant."

Golding was the first to move in, about a month and a half ago. He has a modest office overlooking a parking lot, with the same kind of adjustable desk and bookcase as the rest of the people working there.

The move-in for the rest of the staff is under way. Workers are still unpacking and hanging photos on the walls. About 70 employees are working at the center now, but the total is expected to reach at least 100 by the middle of next year, as Northwest fills more positions. The bank leased 25,000 square feet at the Essjay property, but has the right of first refusal on an adjacent 15,000 square feet.

Employees work in a variety of functions including regulatory compliance, cash management, commercial lending, credit and business intelligence, which turns customer data into information the bank can use. The offices also contain a call center and training rooms.

One of Northwest's new hires is Trina Burruss, as regional vice president and community relationship officer. She will focus on building relationships with community organizations, small businesses and cultural groups.

Burruss was branch manager for KeyBank's new location inside the Conventus building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Prior to that, she managed a branch for HSBC, and then First Niagara, that was the forerunner of the Conventus location. A Key official a few months ago referred to Burruss as the "unofficial mayor" of the Medical Campus.

"Working with the community is great," Burruss said. "It takes my skills beyond the Medical Campus, so it's a good thing."

The regional headquarters is just one sign of Northwest's evolution into a larger bank here. Others include:

-- Northwest will hire someone to serve as president and chief operating officer, a newly created position. William Wagner will remain the chairman and CEO, but he will give up the president's duties once the new hire is on board.

-- Northwest is approaching $10 billion in assets and is considering making another deal to offset the higher costs that will come with reaching that milestone.

-- Thanks to its larger size, the bank has stepped up its sponsorship of activities like the Lewiston Jazz Festival and the Athena Awards Luncheon.

-- Last March, Northwest and the Buffalo Niagara Community Reinvestment Coalition signed a five-year community benefits agreement. The deal calls for the bank to loan or invest about $102 million in low- to moderate-income borrowers and communities in the region. Northwest also plans to open a branch in a low- to moderate-income area, but has not announced where.

Golding said he looks forward to having employees in one place at the Amherst hub. "We're not in silos at this point in time, we're not on different floors. You're not more than 50 or 60 yards away from anything."


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