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PROGRAM HELPS FACTORIES WITH PLANNING

Maybe some factories don't last long because they lack a long-range plan.

That's one idea behind a state-funded pilot program that helped manufacturers formulate strategic plans.

Out of 62 participants in Western New York, 49 completed long-range plans through the "Accelerate New York" program, funded with a $200,000 grant from the state Labor Department, officials said.

Organizers held a meeting in Buffalo Thursday to cap the 15-month program, which was extended for three months beyond its original period.

Manufacturers with fewer than 300 workers were eligible.

"This was an opportunity for manufacturers to step back, stop putting out fires for a couple minutes, and think about where they're going," said Jim Finamore, executive director of the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board, a coordinator of the program.

Participant Flying Bison Brewing Co. is expanding its territory and growing sales with help from the planning process, president Tim Herzog said.

Focusing on long-term goals made it clear the company needed to expand, he said. Working with distributors, the Buffalo brewery grew sales 60 percent last year and expects 140 percent growth this year, he said.

For some companies, long-term vision is especially murky. As a job shop, "we work from purchase order to purchase order," said Bill Raines, president of Dunkirk Metal Products. "You can't see very far down the road." The program gave the 35-worker company an opportunity to examine its strengths and weaknesses, he said.

At United Biochemicals in Niagara Falls, the program helped the 30-person company identify needs for computer skills and other training, president Fayyaz Hussain said. The maker of biochemical supplies should raise skill levels to achieve industry certification standards, he said.

The Accelerate program's results should help the state focus training efforts on manufacturers' needs, said Robert Martin, president of the Western New York Technology Development Center, which obtained the grant for Western New York.

The difficult part of planning for many companies is exploring weaknesses, which forces managers to confront problems in their organization, said Susan McCartney, director of the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College. Some companies that failed to complete a plan may have balked at holding candid discussions of problems.

"I always held my breath during those strategy sessions, and sometimes it doesn't work out," she said.

Statewide, 237 companies completed strategic plans at a cost of $2 million, said Margaret Moree director of the Labor Department's Workforce Development and Training division. It's undecided whether the effort will be repeated, she said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com