The county manager and county economic development chief gave a ringing endorsement for Niagara County's continued membership in the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise on Wednesday.
In a presentation to the Legislature's Economic Development Committee, Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro said the county's involvement with the BNE over the past year led directly to four economic development projects that will bring in approximately $887 million in new investment.
"As you can see from this report, Niagara County Department of Economic Development is now 'plugged into' the regional network," Ferraro read from a document presented to the committee.
In September 2006, the Legislature approved spending $50,000 for membership in the regional economic development agency.
At the time, some legislators were critical of the idea, saying a membership would duplicate services already performed by the Department of Economic Development. Others questioned why the county should have to pay to work with the regional organization.
The one-year "trial membership" gave the county an opportunity to participate in various economic development activities, including site tours with prospective developers, project-specific assistance and shared leads on projects, Ferraro said.
County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said he has included $50,000 for continued membership as a part of the proposed 2008 county budget. "We think it is a very worthwhile investment," Lewis said.
The four projects for which the county received help from the BNE included the proposed HSBC Data Center in Cambria, projected to bring in $884 million in investment and 56 new jobs.
The other projects were a $300,000 investment at Sofanou Plastics Manufacturing in Niagara Falls, Tech Span Ltd. Distribution, a Mississauga, Ont., company located in the county's Vantage Center, and Precious Metal Recycling locating to a vacant building on Industrial Drive in North Tonawanda.
BNE President Thomas A. Kucharski told the committee he is seeing tremendous interest from Canadian companies in Niagara County.
The greatest opportunities to attract businesses to Niagara County exist in the industries of agribusiness, life sciences, logistics, back-office service centers as well as in hospitality and tourism, Kucharski said.
"We think we're off to a good start, and we're just scratching the surface," Kucharski said.
Economic Development Committee Chairman Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said he believes the county's membership has been valuable and has exceeded some legislators' expectations.
Renewing membership "seems to make sense," Updegrove said, but he added he won't make a final decision until legislators get through the budget review process.
In other committee business, members voted to support the issuance of $16 million in bonds for the revitalization of Center Court in Niagara Falls. Further approval is required by the full Legislature, but the action does not place any financial obligation on the county.