Cornerstone Telephone buys western Massachusetts firm

After reaching out to central and southern New York for growth opportunities, the Capital Region’s l

After reaching out to central and southern New York for growth opportunities, the Capital Region’s largest independent communications provider is finding more prospects in its own backyard.

At a time when mergers have become increasingly rare because of the recession, the Cornerstone Telephone Company announced Friday plans to acquire the Richmond Telephone Company in western Massachusetts.

The Troy telecom will use the 106-year-old independent local exchange carrier in Richmond, Mass., as a launch pad for business operations in Massachusetts’ Berkshire and Pioneer Valley regions.

The deal — funded by Berkshire Bank in Pittsfield, Mass. — will equip Cornerstone with 3,000 customers and 8,000 access lines. It is also picking up a dozen employees, who add to its work force of 115. Seventy-five of those employees are in Troy while the others are mostly in field offices in Liverpool, Oneonta and Poughkeepsie.

The move into Berkshire County comes two years after Cornerstone expanded into the Syracuse market by opening the Liverpool office. Shortly after that, the telecom expanded into southern New York with a Rockland County office, which was supposed to serve as a launch pad for entrance into the New Jersey market. But Cornerstone closed that office less than a year after it opened so it can focus more on the Richmond deal, said Company Chief Executive Officer Dan Yamin.

“We’ve been blessed to be able to grow in this economy,” Yamin said.

The Richmond deal reconnects Yamin with Richmond’s chairwoman and former president Lorinda Ackley-Mazur. Between 1989 and 1999, Yamin served as a vice president of operations and general manager of the Taconic Telephone Corp., which Ackley-Mazur once headed and partially owned. He founded Cornerstone in 2001.

Yamin said his company has largely escaped the damage the recession is inflicting on the nation. The biggest hit Cornerstone has taken is from customers going out of business, but it is also growing market share.

Cornerstone has also broadened its product offerings by acquiring in October Empire Alarms, a Ghent residential and commercial alarm monitoring company. The telecom, which picked up 1,000 customers from the Empire deal, is now offering alarm monitoring services to its telephone customers.

Yamin said he still sees growth opportunities for Cornerstone in upstate New York, particularly in the Buffalo area, but plans to maintain his focus on western Massachusetts. By year’s end, Yamin plans to open an office as far east as Springfield, Mass. Minus gains from Richmond, Cornerstone has 10,000 customers and 50,000 access lines.

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