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ECIDA isn't in a hurry to hire top executive

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency isn't in a big rush to hire a new leader.

Before it starts looking for a replacement for the departed Charles E. Webb, the economic development agency plans to take a close look at how it operates and make a strong push to make the agency part of a broader regional approach to business development, agency officials said Monday.

That regional push includes continuing work on increasing the coordination between local economic development agencies, including the potential creation of a single IDA in Erie County, said Dennis Penman, the agency's chairman.

"It's a good time to look at replatforming the ECIDA -- what it does and how it does it," Penman said.

More than three weeks after Webb's three-year tenure at the agency came to an end, Penman said he expects the agency to operate under the direction of three of the agency's top officials over the next six to nine months while the broader review takes place.

"It's been working out wonderfully," Penman said of the triumvirate headed by chief financial officer Alfred Culliton, along with John Cappellino, director of business development and marketing, and Controller Andrew Schoeppich. "We are doing business as usual."

Only after that effort is completed does the agency expect to begin the search for a permanent replacement for Webb, Penman said.

Efforts to consolidate and better coordinate the Buffalo Niagara region's economic development agencies have been tried, with mixed success, many times in the past, including a period where the Erie County IDA was headed by Thomas Kucharski, the president of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise economic development and marketing agency, and James J. Allen, the executive director of the Amherst IDA.

Efforts to consolidate the region's IDAs have picked up momentum in the last year, with the Amherst Town Board last year voting to investigate a merger with the Erie County IDA and County Executive Joel A. Giambra renewing his push to create a single countywide agency.

"It's going to take a buy-in, and what we're hoping to do is make it attractive enough, after six months, to do a buy-in," Penman said. "We want to depoliticize it."

In the meantime, Schoeppich said the agency's interim leadership has been meeting with its 20-member staff and is clarifying the group's organizational structure. "It's basic, plain common sense, but to some extent, that hasn't really been here for the last few years," he said.

The agency also has begun to look at ways to focus on working with businesses and to "get out on the street and talk to businesses" to develop a "real aggressive business retention program," Cappellino said.

"We need to become more visible in the community," so companies better understand the aid and programs available through the IDA and how the process works, he said.

"We feel the strategy is a little dispersed. It needs to be concentrated," Culliton said. "We want to determine what's core and what's not core."


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