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NYS delivers tax breaks in exchange for 500 jobs

Daniel Robison
Joined by local electeds and dignitaries, First Niagara CEO John Koelmel announces plans to expand the bank's workforce in western New York with the help of tax breaks.


Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group is now one of the top 25 largest banks in the country, thanks to an aggressive schedule of mergers over the past few years. Now, New York State will help the corporation continue to grow by offering up to $5.7 million dollars in tax credits over the next five years for the creation of 500 new jobs.

But First Niagara isn’t offering specifics as to where the jobs will be created, what facilities will house them, and the duties of those jobs - only saying that each position will average $75,000 in total compensation.

Empire State Development (ESD) will administer the tax breaks under the new Excelsior Jobs program. That initiative replaces Empire Zones, which were criticized for lax oversight and inflated job creation promises.

ESD senior vice president for legal and general development Leecia Eve says despite vague details from First Niagara, the state will make sure taxpayers are be served well by the corporate tax break.

“This is ‘exhibit A’ for the kind of investment that should be made using state taxpayer dollars vis-à-vis these tax credits. It’s not a blank check. It’s a tax credit tied to each and every job created moving forward,” Eve says.

Market rate pay in western New York is lower than in other regions where the bank has a strong customer base, like Philadelphia.

First Niagara President and CEO John R. Koelmel says that’s not the only reason his bank is looking to hire locally. But he admits western New York workers at his bank will be paid less than their peers elsewhere.

“I think that’s overblown, to be honest. Obviously we compensate people competitively. And is there some market differential, sure. But is that a significant determinant, no. Is this a low cost alternative versus a high cost alternative, no,” he says.

The bank already employs 2,500 in New York. It’s headquartered in Buffalo’s Larkin District.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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