Odoo’s decision to establish an East Coast operations center in Buffalo was an outlier in every sense of the word.
The speed at which the project came together. The concentrated, collaborative effort among local business leaders. The integrated pitch about cost-effective talent, alluring real estate and an emerging tech business culture.
In the end, a global software firm made the kind of decision Buffalonians typically only read about in other cities.
Odoo, which offers a suite of business management software, is based in Belgium and has a large office in San Francisco. The company has more than 900 employees, and expects to eventually hire up to 300 in Buffalo. It is working with the University at Buffalo to gain entry into the Start-Up NY tax breaks program.
Nicholas Kosinski, a Williamsville native charged with leading Odoo’s East Coast operations, first considered his hometown as an option after reading an article about M&T Bank’s chief information officer Michael Wisler and the project Seneca One Tower, a formerly moribund skyscraper being transformed into a technology hub.
Wisler, M&T’s chief information officer, was recruited to M&T in 2018 after serving as vice president of technology at Capital One Financial Group. He helped form M&T’s new technology strategy, which includes taking up 11 floors at Seneca One, where thousands of the bank’s software engineers will work.
“We’re creating a place that is attractive to startups and to companies of all kinds,” he said. “When you look at Odoo joining, the success of ACV Auctions, our move into Seneca One, these are things that are going to have a magnetizing effect.”
Wisler connected Kosinski to board members at 43North, a state-funded business competition and incubator, which recently took up its own floor in Seneca One. That introduction included William Maggio, the manager partner at Lorraine Capital and CEO of the Jacobs Institute; Jordan Levy, a venture capitalist who’s been involved in numerous Buffalo startups and tech initiatives; and Eric Reich, the co-founder and president of Campus Labs who was also recently named co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
Reich said that Kosinski’s local roots helped, but the real story is how the rest of Odoo’s management was convinced that Buffalo could support an operation that includes hundreds of highly-trained employees.
“We proved what it takes to seize the opportunity and bring a company like this to Buffalo,” Reich said. “We need to continue telling our story on a national and regional scale, and to make the kind of investments that puts Buffalo on the list for similar types of projects where large companies are looking for cost-effective markets.”
Seneca One was the obvious choice for Odoo, though it wasn’t the only option the company considered. Ultimately, Kosinski was effusive in the way that Douglas Development president Douglas Jemal and head of development Paul Millstein worked with the company, especially in being flexible given the uncertainties around the coronavirus pandemic. The lease is currently being finalized, and the parties will decide on what floor Odoo takes in the skyscraper at a later date.
Jemal said that decision will be made in concert with broader plans about prospective tenants at Seneca One, some of whom may take multiple floors.
Jemal acquired the then-vacant skyscraper in late 2016 and plans to invest more than $120 million into a technology-oriented hub, now anchored by M&T, 43North and Odoo. Those commercial tenants are balanced out by apartments and ground floor retail and restaurant amenities aimed at turning the building, famous for being a concrete fortress, into something that supports the neighborhood.
Jemal said you can’t overstate the influence of Odoo’s decision.
“These tech companies pay attention to what each other is doing,” he said. “It will help cultivate everything we’re working for, which is a hub that spreads outward, from Canalside to the medical campus.”
Odoo executives were shepherded into meetings with influential business and community leaders, including a Larkvinville gathering with Howard Zemsky, head of Larkin Development Group and Empire State Development Corp. board chair; a City Hall meeting that included Mayor Byron Brown, Office of Strategic Planning executive director Brendan Mehaffy and Buffalo Urban Development Corp. vice president for downtown development Brandye Merriweather; and a meeting at One M&T Plaza with bank CEO René Jones.
Kosinski said the effort showed a united front to Odoo’s management team, who became excited about being part of Buffalo’s story.
M&T has temporarily halted construction at One Seneca as the pandemic plays out, though it remains committed to the project.
“We are still very excited about the tower and more importantly about collaborating with the community on creating a tech ecosystem” in Buffalo, Jones said Tuesday. “We continue to make progress on those efforts and Odoo is a perfect example of that.”