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A Canadian company that remanufactures coin telephones and phones for homes and businesses will set up its first United States division in Amherst.

Tortel USA Inc. hopes to hire as many as 30 people over the next two years, according to Toronto businessman Laj Prasher. He said several employees will be working at the site by late fall.

Prasher said the company is purchasing the 9,000-square-foot building at 221 Commerce Drive. The structure has been vacant since last December when Goring Kerr Inc., a manufacturer of electronic components used in metal detectors, moved to Chicago.

When the building was constructed in 1992, the Amherst Industrial Development Agency approved $475,000 in bond financing for 221 Commerce Drive Associates, the developer. The existing incentive package will not be affected by the Tortel acquisition, a leasehold transfer that was approved Friday by agency directors.

Tortel disassembles old telephones, recoats the plastic casings, then reassembles the components. The reconditioned phones are sold to utility companies and equipment distributors.

"We've been doing this for Bell Canada and we're now bringing the concept to the United States," said Prasher.

The board also approved an incentive package for construction of a $2 million multi-tenant office building at 305 Spindrift Drive, a project that is being spearheaded by Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst. About one-fourth of the 18,000-square-foot building will be occupied by Interim Personnel Inc., a Cheektowaga-based company with four local offices.

Interim Personnel plans to consolidate its two Cheektowaga locations at the Amherst site, claiming its existing landlord could not accommodate the company's expansion. The consolidation will not affect offices in Buffalo or Kenmore, according to AIDA officials.

The expansion by Interim Personnel is expected to create eight additional jobs; the company currently employs seven people in its Cheektowaga facilities.

The incentive package approved Friday will save the developer about $300,000 in taxes over 10 years, including $230,505 in property tax savings.

Board member James Cullinan cast the lone dissenting vote, claiming the
incentives give an "unfair, damaging and offensive" advantage to one local temporary help employment agency.

"This is called cut-throat competition," said Cullinan. "There are several pages of these companies listed in the phone book and we shouldn't be creating an unlevel playing field."

In other board action Friday, directors approved a draft of a new strategic plan that places a heavy emphasis on collaboration with other local economic development entities.

One of the goals highlighted in the four-year action plan calls on the agency to beef up its role in promoting regional trade by continuing to work closely with Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, the NY West/Corridor initiative and by participating in other collaborative efforts.

Other elements of the strategic plan commit the agency to working more closely with various town government entities, including elected officials, planners and zoning officials. The document also proposes expanding the scope of the Amherst Development Corp. in an effort to promote redevelopment opportunities in various neighborhoods, especially older commercial districts in Amherst.

While many components of the agency's strategic plan have a regional theme, one marketing objective calls for continued efforts to boost Amherst's national and Canadian reputation as a distinct entity, promoting it as an ideal spot for high-technology and professional services companies.

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