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Best Banks to Work For

American Banker has published its first-ever list of the "Best Banks to Work For," and none of them has branches in Western New York.

The closest bank to Buffalo was Elmira Savings Bank, which was ranked No. 19 among 28 banks with under $3 billion in assets. (American Banker also ranked four banks with assets between $3 billion and $10 billion, and three with more than $10 billion, for a total of 35.) Tops among the banks with under $3 billion was First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Pascagoula-Moss Point, in Mississippi. It has just 54 employees.

American Banker conducted its study in conjunction with the Best Companies Group. To come up with the rankings, the Best Companies Group reviewed employer reports on benefits and policies, along with employee surveys.

If WNY banks are feeling left out, American Banker is already inviting banks to consider applying for next year's edition.

-- Matt Glynn

One Canalside nearing completion for Phillips Lytle


The conversion of the former Donovan State Office Building into the new headquarters for law firm Phillips Lytle LP is on schedule and on budget, with the firm planning a mid-November move-in over a single long weekend. (Photo at right is a view from inside the renovated building.)

That’s the word from Managing Partner David McNamara, as he took a reporter through the construction site, which he called “a beehive of activity” with workers from at least four different companies.

The building is in the Canalside district, a block north of the First Niagara Center on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo.  The reuse of the building is part of the larger development of the Canalside area. 

Phillips Lytle will occupy the top four floors of the eight-story building, with a Courtyard by Marriott hotel planned by developer Benderson Development Co. for the bottom floors.

The law firm’s attorneys and staff are planning to move over from the One HSBC Center tower starting at 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 and finishing up in time to open for business on Monday, Nov. 18. The hotel is slated to open in late April.

Currently, the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors are “pretty much done,” McNamara said, with all but the furniture essentially in place – and that’s either been delivered or is on its way.

Drywall is up, ceilings and light fixtures are up, and even much of the flooring is done, mostly carpeting with some stone and marble. The electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning systems are complete, and the elevators are ready, after one was repositioned to serve as a freight elevator. “It’s the cosmetic finishes at this point,” McNamara said.

The eighth floor, which includes the main reception area, 12 conference rooms and leadership offices, is a bit further behind, as the flooring is not done yet, nor are some of the other features, such as the audio-visual equipment for the largest conference room in a corner of the floor and the “skywalls” that can come down to break the room into thirds. Workers are also preparing to lay down 125 stone pavers on the outdoor patio on the 8th floor.

“The hard work is done. The rest they can make quick work of,” McNamara said.

“It’s progressed along really well,” McNamara said. “We’ve encountered the issues you would expect to encounter in a project of this magnitutde, but we’ve worked through them and everything is on track.”

On the first floor, a “virtual” reception desk is being created for the firm, with a video screen directly linked to the actual reception on the eighth floor. The wall will also feature a mural of the Canalside area from the early 20th centurey, produced by Hadley Exhibits.

Outside, work continues on the two-level parking deck, which will have 75 spaces on the lower level for Phillips Lytle and 75 on the second level for the hotel.

Pedestrian access, through two building entrances, will be from both Washington Street and the metro rail line on Main Street, with steps leading to both streets.

-- Jonathan D. Epstein

Tracking Hudson City

New Jersey-based Hudson City Bancorp doesn't have any branches in Western New York, but its performance is being followed closely here. Buffalo-based M&T Bank earlier this year agreed to buy Hudson City, but the acquisition process has been on hold while M&T strengthens its anti-money laundering practices under an agreement with the Federal Reserve.

Hudson City reported its third-quarter earnings on Wednesday. In its earnings release, the bank had nothing new to say about the acquisition process by M&T, instead reiterating what is already known: Hudson City and M&T have set Jan. 31, 2014 as the date after which either party may elect to terminate the merger agreement, and there can be no assurances the merger will be completed by that date.

Hudson City's net income dropped 24 percent from a year ago, to $42.7 million. Its net interest income was down 31.4 percent, to $139.4 million, while its noninterest income soared to $13.5 million, bolstered by a gain on the sale of mortgage-backed securities.

-- Matt Glynn


Weekend business...

Some interesting stories from the business section this weekend:

Holiday hiring: Stores, fulfillment centers and delivery services are staffing up for the busy weeks ahead.

Holiday jobs that pay well: Samantha Maziarz Christmann, the Discount Diva, looks at what seasonal jobs pay well.

Non-profit young professionals: A local chapter of a networking group has formed for young people in the non-profit realm.

Crowdfunding: David Robinson's column is about a local firm, You and Who, raising money on the web.

Paladinos buying buildings: Ellicott Development, Carl Paladino's company, bought some interesting properties in Buffalo and Kenmore.

Cell phone service: Service from the cell phone providers in the region is getting better.

- Grove Potter

Wilmers' thoughts

M&T Bank Corp. chief executive officer Robert G. Wilmers spoke at Loyola University Maryland on Monday, and offered views on the economy, M&T's operations, and his leadership style. Here are some excerpts from the text of his speech:

-- On the economy: "While numerous challenges remain, including still-elevated unemployment and weak hourly earnings growth, the outlook for the economy is becoming more positive. Let’s just hope all that political bickering and blathering down in Washington doesn’t sidetrack us again."

-- Regarding M&T's ownership structure, he said about 18.5 percent of the company’s stock is owned or controlled by M&T’s management, directors. Wilmers said 2,638 -- 93 percent -- of the employees at the level of vice-president and above own M&T stock. "If they act like owners, it’s because they are," he said.

-- Wilmers said an important part of his management style is asking questions: "It’s an approach based on the belief that the other people around the table know more than I do about their specific areas, so I should listen to them. What’s more, if I talk too much, I’ll tip which way I’m leaning—and run the risk that I’ll be told what someone thinks I want to hear. My goal must always be to try to move the bank toward what’s best for the bank—not toward what conforms to my own opinions."

-- He talked about M&T's Management Development Program, which The Buffalo News highlighted in a story on Sunday. The program hires young professionals and trains them for management roles. He mentioned that of the 1,008 hires M&T has made through what is known as MDP since 1983, 432 are still at M&T. And 59 of those are senior managers.

-- He also spoke about M&T's Executive Associate program, launched in 1984 to recruit MBAs. Of the 478 hired through that program, 191 are still at M&T, a retention rate of about 40 percent. Notable recruits include Rene Jones, the chief financial officer; Mike Pinto, vice chairman and head of the Mid Atlantic Division; and Rich Gold, executive vice president in charge of mortgage and consumer lending and business banking.

-- Matt Glynn



For SBA disaster help center, business as usual

While many segments of the federal government are shut down, including parts of the Small Business Administration, the SBA's Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center on South Elmwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo continues to operate.

About 60 people are currently working at the center, said Colleen Hiam, the director. The center helps victims of disasters apply for SBA disaster loans; its activity tends to spike in the wake of disasters like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

So while many federal workers are waiting for word on when they can return from furlough, employees at the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center are tracking whether Tropical Storm Karen turns into a hurricane and causes damage in the southern United States.

-- Matt Glynn