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2013 Person of the Year: Jodi Gaines

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 December 2013 at 12:00 am

Local resident has built a juggernaut of a company, employing hundreds in job-starved Orleans County

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jodi Gaines answers questions from the media on Sept. 30, when she announced Claims Recovery Financial Services would be actively recruiting to fill 150 more positions in Albion.

You hear it a lot around here: No jobs for young people so they leave after high school or college in search for more opportunity. Our community is far poorer for it.

One local woman has proven a major force combating the flight of area residents by providing employment in their backyard. Jodi Gaines in a decade has built a company to 600 workers with plans to add 150 more in Albion, with possibly more expansion in the future.

Gaines, chief executive officer and co-owner of Claims Recovery Financial Services, is leading the company in a major growth spurt at a time when Orleans County desperately needs it. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

This year CRFS outgrew its space in Albion and expanded into a site in Medina at the Olde Pickle Factory. The company had the Albion and Medina sites, and added about 80 people in San Antonio, Texas. CRFS was still pinched for room.

In June, JP Morgan Chase announced it would close its Albion site in September, and would lay off 413 workers, leaving a 60,000-square-foot facility to sit empty in a prominent location in the village. The news was a major blow to the community’s psyche.

Gaines saw an opportunity in the Chase site. In September, she announced she was moving the entire Orleans County operation to Chase building and would actively recruit 150 more workers.

“CRFS is primed to do more for Orleans County than ever before,” Gaines said during a Sept. 30 press conference. “We started in Orleans County. We’re staying in Orleans County and the best is yet to come.”

The announcement had the added good news that Roger Hungerford, owner of the Olde Pickle Factory, was buying the site. He immediately set about painting the big building and making other renovations.

“We’re getting local ownership with the building and someone who will invest in the property,” Albion Mayor Dean Theodorakos said.

For the past 25 years the location has employed hundreds of people in the banking industry, first at Anchor Savings Bank, followed by Dime Bank, North American Mortgage Corporation, Washington Mutual and then Chase.

About every five years one of the banking companies was bought by a bigger bank in a very volatile industry. That always created uncertainty and worry in Albion that the new owners would eliminate the Orleans workforce through a consolidation.

Our Congressional representatives, notably former Congressman John LaFalce and more recently U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, used their clout on banking committees to help keep the banking jobs in Albion.

With a local woman running a locally based company, the community can breathe a little easier that Gaines won’t suddenly spring some bad news on us that she is taking her workforce out of state.

Gaines started as a claims clerk in 1989 for the former Anchor Savings Bank in Albion. She stayed in that department as ownership of the facility changed to Dime Bank and the North American Mortgage Company and then to Washington Mutual. WaMu phased out the claims department in 2002.

Gaines was offered a different job to stay with WaMu, but she opted to start her own company in claims, helping banks and investors to recover money with foreclosed properties.

She started the new venture from her kitchen table in Albion. That was December 2002. She had two employees. The company quickly grew, mastering regulations in all 50 states and taking on more clients.

Her employees work with attorneys, county clerks, utility companies and investors from all over the country. CRFS works to recover past-due interest, unpaid principal, unpaid taxes and unpaid insurance on houses.

“This organization prides itself on results and quality each and every day,” Gaines said. “The work ethic of the CRFS managers and employees is why we are now poised for such tremendous growth.”

Gaines was active in the Albion youth soccer program for many years with her son, once serving as a league commissioner. She remains active on the board of directors for the Orleans County United Way.

She is the Orleans Hub’s 2013 “Person of the Year.”