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Oakland County’s economic development department received a letter Monday. United Shore Financial Services said it was returning $1.9 million in brownfield tax breaks for its new Pontiac headquarters.

“It has never happened in the history of the brownfield authority,” said Irene Spanos, director of economic development and community affairs. “That’s wonderful that it can be offered to services to our local taxpayers."

United Shore CEO Mat Ishbia said in an interview with The Detroit News Monday that the decision to forgo the money for the $85-million, 600,000-square-foot building came from the No. 1 wholesale mortgage company’s culture. It emphasizes people, which is what Ishbia says will grow United Shore to the No. 1 mortgage lender in the country.

Based on early indications, it appeared United Shore would have had to invest in making its property at 585 S. Blvd. E., meet certain standards, but after soil treatments and environmental evaluations, all the work done on the site was going to be completed.

“If we were going to spend this $85 million and not a penny different, why take money from the city, county or state or anyone?” Ishbia said. “That money can be used for better things. They weren’t asking us to do above and beyond, and therefore it wasn’t our money.”

Once the Oakland County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority approves rescinding the tax abatements, Spanos said, the money will go toward the general funds of the county and contributing jurisdictions, where it can be used to support education, roads, health departments and more.

United Shore moved its 2,700 employees into its new headquarters in Pontiac in June. Now hiring about 100 people every month, the company had outgrown its 275,000-square-foot space in Troy.

Although the mortgage industry has contracted since 2015, United Shore increased its mortgage sales from $13 billion to $29.5 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow to more than $40 billion this year.

The company's subsidiary, United Wholesale Mortgages, operates differently than a bank or lender such as Quicken Loans that sells mortgages directly to customers. United works with mortgage brokers that offer several different mortgages to consumers.

Over the past decade, Ishbia said, the mortgage broker business has increased its share of the mortgage market from 7 percent to 17 percent. Ishbia is betting that mortgage brokering will continue to increase as consumers became more aware of the option.

United, which has held is No. 1 spot in the wholesale market since 2015, also is the second-ranked overall mortgage lender in purchase loan volume. Ishbia said the goal is to become the No. 1 mortgage lender in the country.

"We’ve more than tripled because of broker growth and because we’ve grown our market share within the channel," Ishbia said. "It's worked because at the end of the day, we’re taking care of our people."

It is a lesson, he said, he learned from his father and from his head basketball coach at Michigan State University, Tom Izzo. Ishbia was a member of the 2000 NCAA national championship team, but he was a walk-on player who only stepped onto the court in the few remaining seconds of blowouts.

Still, he said Izzo pushed him to be the best third-string point guard in the country and was attentive to the smallest of details, something he has strived to adopt in his business.

"A lot of people say it’s all about the customer experience," Ishbia said. "That’s 100 percent true, but my customer experience is my 2,700 people."

That means sticking to 40-hour work weeks so employees can be with their families. It means tracking their progress on both professional and personal goals. In United Shores' new building, it means offering amenities such as a salon, doctor's office, fitness center, gaming room, Starbucks cafe and cafeteria.

"We took care of our client experience, which is our team members," Ishbia said. "They take care of our business clients, which is our brokers, and that’s how business comes in. That’s our business philosophy from a high level, and this building has taken it to the next level in that respect."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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