Friday, March 25, 2011

U.S. Bank expansion could spark trend for city

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, March 25, 2011 12:20 AM CDT
During the ribbon-cutting on Phase I of the new U.S. Bank Home Mortgage building Thursday, Executive Vice-President Bob Smiley announced that he expects to get approval to move ahead with Phase II next week.

In terms of jobs, that means about 275 more people will be hired for the second construction phase, bringing the total number of new jobs to 525.

But this expansion is about even more than these jobs, officials said.

With the economy shifting from heavy manufacturing, having a national mortgage company as a major employer expanding in Owensboro provides an opportunity to diversify the city's work force, said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

"We've been successful in retaining (some) manufacturers, but there's not a lot of growth nationally," Brake said. "This allows us to grow in the business, professional and financial sector."

Brake praised the mortgage company for its vision and ability to grow through the financial crisis.

"And that all goes back to an entrepreneur here in Owensboro years ago," he said.

Brake praised George Greenwell's innovative work at Lincoln Service Corp. in using technology to service loans.

Lincoln is the forerunner to U.S. Bank Home Mortgage.

The mortgage company's growth here also can spur more development, Brake said.

"We've had a lot of other inquiries for call centers," he said. "The more of this sector business you have in this area, the more attractive you are to others. It makes us more competitive."

The area's strength in the financial and business professional sector can be a magnet for back-office types of businesses, customer service centers and companies that sell products such as pharmaceuticals online.

"In real terms, this has a definite economic impact," Mayor Ron Payne said just before the ribbon-cutting. "But in terms of morale for Owensboro, it's also great. To be out here adding jobs -- more than 500 -- speaks worlds for Owensboro."

Payne called the ribbon-cutting the first of many to come, culminating with the new Owensboro Medical Health System in 2013.

Other projects include the National Guard Armory's Readiness Center and a new tenant for the former state office building, a new downtown hotel and an events center.

The bank is investing about $14.1 million in the expansion. Incentives from the city and state total more than $6 million. The city is building the facility and leasing it to the company at below-market rate, officials said.

The expansion would not have happened without the incentives, Brake said. Other communities that had existing capacity were courting the bank.

Hiring to fill the mortgage servicing jobs is going well, Smiley said. The company opened 150 jobs about two weeks ago.

In addition to new hires, employees from other U.S. Bank Home Mortgage locations in the city will move into the building.

Kara Knable said she and about 20 employees she manages at the Frederica Street location will move in on Monday.

"We're excited about moving into a new building," she said.

Linda Mitchell, assistant vice president of human resources, said the region has a great work force pool. Forty-six people already have been hired with more lined up.

Applications are available at

"I will say this to people, when you go online and see the jobs posted, don't be afraid of the job titles," Mitchell said. "We will train you. We're looking for people with good work ethics and good job history. Other than that, we'll train you."

To simplify the search for online applications, type in the key word "mortgage," she said.

Company policies also do not prevent multiple family members from working for the company, she said.

"We're a family-based company. We just wouldn't have you working in the same department," Mitchell said. "We tell people that we're the largest small company you'll work for."

The 525 jobs from this two-phase expansion will put U.S. Bank Home Mortgage's local employment at almost 1,600.

In 2009, the bank added about 300 jobs and built a 50,000-square-foot office building in Highland Pointe off Kentucky 54.