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BELL ATLANTIC TO CREATE 200 JOBS IN CHEEKTOWAGA

Bell Atlantic will create more than 200 jobs in Cheektowaga by the end of the year for sales and service support of its new high-speed Internet products.

The New York City-based telecommunications company is leasing an additional 28,000-square-feet at the AppleTree Business Park for its Infospeed DSL and ISDN Internet products, company officials confirmed Tuesday.

Bell Atlantic already has about 120 employees in 25,000-square-feet of leased space at the Union Road office park, which Ciminelli Development Co. transformed from a shopping mall in the early 1990s.

The Cheektowaga call center serves Bell Atlantic Internet customers in Boston and New York City, and will handle the entire northeast service area of Maine through New York as the products are deployed.

"People are knocking on our doors to get this service and they're making lots of phone calls to that office in Buffalo. We expect to add more than 200 people there by the end of this year," said Joan Rasmussen, a spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic headquarters in New York.

Bell Atlantic will invest about $3.4 million to renovate and equip the new office and receive a $300,000 state capital grant, according to Luke Rich, vice president and regional director for the Empire State Development Corp. "We provided some incentives for them to do this here, rather than in Norfolk, Va., which was the competition," Rich said.

Rich described the new jobs as mid-level call center work, with some technical expertise and skill required. The center will fill a niche in the local market where most of the other call center work is either entry level or high tech, Rich said.

Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis Gabryszak said the Bell Atlantic jobs, along with 120 new manufacturing jobs recently announced for an American Axle plant on Walden Avenue, will help diversify a town economy that relies heavily on the retail cluster surrounding the Walden Galleria Mall.

"These are better paying jobs than what you would normally find in retail . . . This shows that given the right circumstances, this area can be viable," Gabryszak said.

Infospeed DSL provides a direct Internet connection, without tying up the regular telephone line, which is up to 126 times faster than traditional modems. The service costs $49.95 a month for unlimited use.

ISDN is a separate Internet connection used primarily by commercial customers.

Infospeed DSL, which stands for "digital sub
scriber line, is not available in Western New York. The company expects to launch the product here soon. Bell Atlantic has rolled out the Internet service this year in most of its largest markets, including Washington, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York.

The potential growth of the Internet service means more jobs could eventually be added in Cheektowaga.

"This is the most aggressive deployment of DSL in the country," Ms. Rasmussen said. "I can't say what our needs are going to be and where our needs are going to be, but certainly with our aggressive deployment we are expecting a lot of consumer demand."

Bell Atlantic's decision to put an Internet service office here builds on additional information technology growth here. Adelphia Cable, which has its own high-speed Internet service, is considering a major expansion in Buffalo, as well.

Other local expansions this year include ATTO Technologies, a computer hardware company building a 40,000-square-foot headquarters in Amherst, and Reciprocal Inc., an electronic commerce company in Buffalo, which is launching a digital rights-exchange service.

"I think information technology is beginning to grow in Western New York and most gurus in the economy say we're coming into the information age, Rich said. "So we should try to leverage this as much as we can. And it's very good news when we get companies such as Bell Atlantic, which are at the cutting edge of the business."

Pyramid Brokerage of Buffalo helped Bell Atlantic acquire the leased space at AppleTree, which has become a model conversion project. The 450,000-square-foot former mall, owned by AmCap Inc. of Connecticut, is entirely leased except for a former Jubilee supermarket out-parcel.

"This product is being duplicated in other markets now for regional malls that are no longer successful," said James F. Dentinger, vice president of Ciminelli Development, which serves as the park's leasing agent.

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