SANTA ROSA -- American AgCredit plans to build a new, 50,000-square-foot headquarters in Santa Rosa, with company executives citing the expertise of current staff and a regional talent pool as key drivers to keep its administrative nucleus on the West Coast at a time of rapid national expansion.

The North Bay's largest locally-based lender, with nearly $6 billion in assets, closed escrow on a 3.5-acre vacant parcel near the Airport Business Center on Oct. 1. The sale also included a two-year option to purchase up to 7.5 acres at the site, according to executives.

After extensive study, the merits of a Santa Rosa expansion ultimately outweighed considerations to open an expanded headquarters in Denver, Colo., home of a $1 billion January acquisition that propelled the farm credit cooperative to its current position as sixth-largest farm lender in the country. The cost of either option was roughly similar, according to the lender.

By remaining in the North Bay and securing the option for additional land, American AgCredit has also positioned itself to advance on a long-held vision: the development of a one-stop business campus to bring together and unite the region’s various wine and agricultural interests.

"We recognized that we paid a premium for land here, but it fit us so well," said Floyd Ridenhour, chief administrative officer for American AgCredit. "We're not looking at this as a short-term investment."

Specifics related to the new headquarters are currently under development, but Mr. Ridenhour said that the larger space will allow room for an expected 25 to 30 percent increase in staff in the coming years. Rapidly growing areas include risk management, crop insurance and accounting for a growing portfolio of assets. The lender has approximately 100 employees in its 32,000-square-foot administrative headquarters at 200 Concourse Blvd. in Santa Rosa. That building was opened in 1998, when the formerly named Pacific Coast Farm Credit had $500 million in assets.

In addition, the new facility will be configured to encourage collaboration between departments – a core approach for American AgCredit in recent years.

“If you have a company that’s grown by more than 10 times, you obviously can’t operate the company in the same way,” Mr. Ridenhour said. “Before, we tended to be in silos. Now we’re more of an enterprise operation. All of our groups are working together.”

American AgCredit has acquired five farm lenders since 2000, now operating 32 branches in six states and serving capital customers in 30 states. In total, the financial cooperative now has over 400 employees.

Construction for the new headquarters is expected to begin in late 2013, with completion in 2014, said Mr. Ridenhour.

While the lender has chosen to maintain a West Coast headquarters, Terry Lindley, senior vice president of marketing, said that the expansion of the Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport is anticipated to encourage carriers to offer direct flights between Santa Rosa and Denver in the future.

Ambitions to open a broad “Ag Center” near the new headquarters continue, with no specific timeline for the project. Though citing strong interest, executives declined to list groups that were involved in the proposal, as discussions of financing and program specifics are ongoing.

“It could be a tremendous asset for the ag community in Sonoma County,” Mr. Lindley said.