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Financial firm another boon to downtown

By: Denise M. Champagne//January 26, 2011

Financial firm another boon to downtown

By: Denise M. Champagne//January 26, 2011

Darren M. Ross, senior vice president at Foundation Financial Group, poses recently in the lobby of The Washington Building in Rochester. Vasiliy Baziuk

Foundation Financial Group will open a new office in Rochester on Monday.

The new regional sales center, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company’s sixth, will handle business in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Senior Vice President Darren M. Ross, who is the division’s general manager, said the company provides one-stop financial planning services. He said the company has expanded this year from handling mainly residential mortgage services to include tax, insurance, retirement and wealth management services.

The company prides itself in customer service and turn-around time, processing mortgages in 16.45 days. It is a full, legal lender with the ability to sign off on its own loans, he said.

“We pay much more personal attention that a lot of the time, people don’t get out there,” Ross said. “It’s really exciting for us to get into this market and help these families. The lending environment across the country is pretty tough right now. What sets us apart is how hard we really work and how much personal attention we give.”

Ross, a Cincinnati native, has moved to Brighton with his wife Lisa and 11-month-old daughter. Lisa, who is originally from Ulster County, also works for the company. She is the division assistant/ office manager.

Ross said Rochester was selected because of its quality work force and the ties company President Kris Williams has to Western New York.

Williams grew up in Wyoming County, has lived and worked in Rochester and comes back annually to see visit family with his wife, who is from the Caledonia-Mumford area.

“My experience and comfort level with the area and the people of Western New York are the reasons that I pushed for the Rochester location to open our next sales center,” Williams said.

Ross said the cost of living doesn’t hurt either, or the fact that the area is beautiful.

“I am not here to save Rochester, but there’s a good work force that isn’t being utilized,” Ross said. “We’re looking forward to taking advantage of having a good work force that has high character.”

He said a lot of people suggested they locate in one of the suburbs, but Foundation Financial Group wanted to be downtown. The company is on the third floor of The Washington Building on the corner of South Washington and West Main streets, leased through Buckingham Properties LLC.

“We’re going to do this hook, line and sinker,” Ross said. “This looks to be an up-and-coming area.”

Joining Ross are Justin Nichols, AVP team leader; Nicholas Hallas, marketing professional; Dana Chen, regional sales manager; and the first class of new employees, a group of nine that starts work Monday.

Ross said the goal is to have 50 employees by the end of the year and 100 by the end of 2012. He has plenty of space on the third floor and room for expansion.

Most of the new hires will be entry-level marketing positions with salaries of $10 to $12.50 an hour, plus bonuses and an opportunity to grow.

Ross also said there will also be salaried positions for those with mortgage licenses and opportunities for those who would like to get their license.

“What we really offer here is advancement opportunity for people who perform,” Ross said, noting Chen has received four promotions in the last 18 months and that Nichols received his first within 90 days. “I prefer to train and promote from within.”

To celebrate the opening, the company is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Monday. Expected attendees include Judy A. Seil, director of Monroe County’s Economic Development Division; and Bret Garwood, director, Business and Housing Development, city of Rochester.

Seil said her department helped Foundation Financial Group through its Great Rebate program. She said the company is spending $70,000 in cash on office equipment and will receive a $5,000 rebate in two years if it meets its job creation goal, which calls for 42 jobs in 90 days.

That includes 15 jobs in the $30,000 annual-salary range and six loan officers at $55,000 each, Seil said. The benefit to the community over 10 years is expected to be about $2 million with the new jobs and sales and income taxes.

The company, listed as Homeowners Mortgage of America Inc., originally applied for a sales tax exemption, but later withdrew its request, according to Seil.

“We’re pleased to have something like this coming to the community,” she said. “They were looking at various locations throughout New York state and they thought Rochester was good place to locate, primarily because of the work force. It speaks well about the talented work force that we have here.”

Foundation Financial Group was founded in 1998 in Atlanta as Homeowners Mortgage of America Inc. The mortgage operations are still headquartered in Atlanta, but the company moved its executive headquarters to Jacksonville Fla. in 2004, growing from eight employees to more than 200.

“We’ve been eager to provide our outstanding service to residents of New York state and the Northeast while in the middle of one of our best quarters of our best year,” said Mark W. Boyer, Foundation’s chief executive officer.

Ross said the company realized a 14 percent growth in 2010 mortgage originations while many mortgage lenders saw a 21 percent reduction.

“We’re here to stay,” he said, speaking of Rochester. “As much as we can grow, we’re going to grow.”
The company is also hiring 170 additional full-time employees at its five major mortgage operations centers.

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