CRFS called ‘home-grown’ success story

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 September 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jodi Gaines faces the gauntlet of cameras after a press conference today, when she announced the company would be actively recruiting to fill 150 more positions in Albion.

ALBION – When Washington Mutual took over the former Dime Bank in 2002, the Seattle-based company phased out the claims department.

Jodi Gaines worked in that department. 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.

She was offered a different job to stay with WaMu, but Gaines 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.

In May 2003, Gaines moved the claims work to the former Lipton’s office in Albion, a building that had been taken over by the Orleans Economic Development Agency. The Orleans EDA offered Gaines and her staff space, office furniture and equipment, while the company got started.

Gaines recalled those roots and help from the EDA today when she announced Claims Recovery Financial Services would add 150 more workers and move its operations to the former JPMorgan Chase site in Albion, where the site is projected to have about 750 CRFS employees in March.

“This organization prides itself on results and quality each and every day,” Gaines said during today’s press conference about the expansion in Albion. “The work ethic of the CRFS managers and employees is why we are now poised for such tremendous growth.”

Jodi Gaines is pictured with Orleans Economic Development Agency officials Gabrielle Barone, left, and Jim Whipple.

The news from CRFS comes to a community in need of employment opportunities. The August unemployment report showed Orleans County, with an 8.4 percent unemployment rate, had one of the highest rates in upstate New York.

“From humble beginnings in Orleans County, using a collection of not-so-gently used office furniture, cramped office space and an untriedbusiness model, Jodi Gaines and an outstanding, small group of predominately women, redefined the American dream,” said David Callard, the Orleans County Legislature chairman.

Vinny Esposito, Finger Lakes regional director for Empire State Development, praised Gaines for her vision in building the company, and for her commitment to Orleans County.

“It is really a great American success story,” Esposito said. “It’s a home-grown company that has grown into a highly successful company.”

Only 10 years ago, Gaines had fewer than 10 workers. She quickly outgrew the Lipton’s office space and moved her staff to the former Navarra’s Family Restaurant in Albion.

The company continued its rapid growth and made a name for itself in the claims industry by working with banks and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, recovering past-due interest, unpaid principal, unpaid taxes and unpaid insurance on houses.

CRFS moved up to East Avenue next to the Chase site about five years ago with 75 employees. The site had more than 300 workers about a year ago and Gaines needed to find more space.

Roger Hungerford, owner of the Olde Pickle Factory in Medina, renovated one of the Pickle Factory buildings, allowing CRFS to bring 230 employees to Medina while Gaines kept more than 300 in Albion.

‘We started in Orleans County. We’re staying in Orleans County and the best is yet to come.’
– CRFS leader Jodi Gaines

But the company kept growing, as more clients sought out CRFS for claims. When Chase announced in June it was leaving, eliminating 413 Albion jobs by September, the vacant facility presented an opportunity for CRFS to have its Orleans County workforce in one location with plenty of room to grow. Gaines said there is space for 1,200 employees in the 60,000-square-foot building.

Hungerford is in the process of acquiring the building from Chase. Hungerford, the former owner of the Sigma International company in Medina, has proven himself as a developer with the Olde Pickle Factory. He also has shown his dedication to the community.

“Everyone should be happy that Roger Hungerford has the building,” said Jim Whipple, the Orleans EDA chief executive officer. “It’s no longer in the hands of the banks.”

The banking industry has been particularly volatile the past 25 years, with the former Chase site often changing hands.

“Every five years we were dealing with somebody new,” Whipple said.

With each new owner, high-powered members of Congress intervened to keep the site in Albion. First it was former Congressman John LaFalce, a member of the House Banking Committee. He was critical in getting Dime Bank to come and expand in Albion.

After LaFalce retired, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer provided the arm-twisting to get Washington Mutual and then Chase to stay in Albion.

Now, with local people owning the building and running the business, the site won’t be vulnerable to a sudden shutdown or relocation.

Gaines said she sees the company continuing its rapid growth, to the point the Chase site may be too small. That’s why she intends to keep the neighboring site, where CRFS currently has more than 300 workers, as an option for the future.

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