Processing growth Featured

8:00pm EDT May 22, 2005
When Sky Bank needed a new processing facility to handle its growth, it looked to Greater Cleveland for an optimum location.

Sky, which through acquisitions and internal growth has gone from assets of less than $5 billion in 1998 to assets of $15 billion today, has operations that stretch from eastern Indiana to western Pennsylvania and include the northern half of Ohio.

While a lot of transactions are handled electronically, paper still goes back and forth between Sky and the Federal Reserve Bank here, so a Northeast Ohio location made perfect sense. It would also help serve a growing local client base.

"We really honed in on Cleveland because of the proximity to the Fed and the proximity to interstate highways that are central to our network," says Dick Hollington, president for the Cleveland region of Sky Bank. "We looked at over 100 sites. We really looked comprehensively throughout Greater Cleveland.

"We really honed in on Brecksville because of the ease of getting to the Fed and the highways, the major postal facility there and the economics of the facility we were able to find that had the capacity to handle our needs and growth."

Sky leased a 30,000-square-foot facility, leaving room for future expansion.

"We'll have about 60 people there," says Hollington. "There is a lot of room for growth. By no stretch of the imagination are we full. I would imagine that we could probably double our capacity at the facility."

Working with local political officials is an unknown factor in any project, but Hollington says Brecksville helped keep it on schedule.

"We had a lot of interaction with Brecksville," he says. "The guys we were dealing with were extremely cooperative and really easy to work with. In November, we started talking to the city, and we were open and operating in May.

"I think one key to working with local officials is to go to them early. I think as soon as you hone in on the particular government in the area you'll be, the sooner you can build a relationship with key people there. Any project like this has real time constraints, and the earlier you form a relationship the better able they'll be able to meet your timetable. No one likes having an emergency dropped on their desk."

Team NEO also helped the company with the project, providing demographic information and feasibility studies that helped narrow the potential sites.

"It's information we probably would have had to have done on our own," says Hollington. With that information already in hand, the company didn't have to spend extra money or take the time to have a study done.

A well-defined plan helped Sky keep the project on schedule and on budget.

"A clear game plan is vitally important," says Hollington. "You have to have the right people involved in the plan. In this case, there are a lot of different areas involved, and you have to have your internal experts involved along the way with a clear game plan to execute.

"We have a very well defined project management protocol within Sky. Every week, the leaders of the core team met to update the status on the tasks that needed to be completed, issues were uncovered that needed to be resolved and we made sure we were meeting the time frame and cost parameters and delivered everything as it should be. That's how we run all of our acquisitions and projects."

How to reach: Sky Bank, www.skyfi.com

Don't forget the people

Opening a new facility like Sky Bank did can present some brick-and-mortar related challenges, but don't forget to plan for the people component as well.

Sky, which has about 60 people in its new operations center in Brecksville, transferred a few veterans but will predominantly be using new hires.

"Hiring and training of people is absolutely critical," says Dick Hollington, regional president for the Cleveland region of Sky Bank. "It takes having people hired in advance, taking time in getting them trained doing simulations and bringing the facility online in a fashion so that everyone is comfortable with their jobs."

Sky's experience with completing a dozen acquisitions over the last seven years helps.

"We learn something in every one," says Hollington. "We game plan on how to bring new people into Sky. We train on our culture, processes and products. It really makes a big difference to have a program in place when you have to do a facility like this. If you haven't done it before, think through what are your most critical issues and what's the most important thing you can do to get your people up to speed quickly. Most people think the real estate portion is a big deal, but the people side can be more important and harder than just making the equipment work."