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Greatbatch headquarters to move; Executives at the Clarence-based company downplay the decision, say local operation remains on the manufacturer's 'growth trajectory'

Greatbatch Inc., a Clarence-based medical device and battery manufacturer whose roots in Western New York date back more than 40 years, is moving its corporate headquarters to the Dallas suburbs.

Greatbatch executives downplayed the impact of the move, expected sometime this summer, saying that it initially will involve only four of Greatbatch's top executives and that its nearly 680 remaining manufacturing, research and corporate jobs in Clarence and Alden won't be affected.

"I think it's just really sad," said Clarence Supervisor David C. Hartzell Jr. "If there's good news, it's that the bulk of their jobs will remain here."

But the company, in announcing the move Tuesday, also said it could shift more of its corporate work to its new headquarters in Frisco, Texas, "as business needs warrant."

Thomas J. Hook, Greatbatch's president and chief executive officer, said that the company in the future may consider moving the three other top-ranking executives in its management team to Texas but that there are no current plans to shift other corporate workers to the new home office.

Hook emphasized that Greatbatch remains committed to its Western New York operations in Alden and Clarence. Those operations include about 300 production workers at the Alden plant, which makes batteries and capacitors, as well as 130 workers at its Clarence plant, which makes capacitors.

"Not a single manufacturing job is transitioning anywhere," Hook said.

The company's other roughly 250 local employees work in the corporate offices or are involved in its extensive research and development initiatives for its battery and capacitor products. If Greatbatch continues to grow, it could lead to more opportunities to expand locally, Hook said.

"My mantra is growth," Hook said, noting that Greatbatch's sales have tripled since 2004. "Buffalo is absolutely part of our growth trajectory."

While the impact of the shift -- as outlined by Greatbatch executives -- will have a relatively small impact on the Buffalo Niagara economy, the loss of one of the region's relatively few corporate headquarters is a bigger psychological blow.

It's also a setback to the efforts to develop the area as a center for life sciences.

"You have to roll with the punches with these types of decisions and continue to carry the message," said Thomas A. Kucharski, president of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise business development and marketing group.

"It's unfortunate, but companies make decisions for a variety of reasons," he said. "There will be other reasons why a company thinks this is a good location."

Greatbatch executives said they are making the move to raise the company's stature in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which they described as "a vibrant medical device community with a strong business climate."

That dovetails with the company's ongoing push to build its own medical device business as it tries to diversify its operations beyond the medical batteries, especially for devices such as pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators, that brought Greatbatch the bulk of its sales for decades.

Greatbatch launched its first two medical devices last year, bringing in $5 million in sales -- about half as much as executives hoped for. Hook blamed the shortfall on the learning curve associated with a new market.

But the company has more than 15 other devices under development, either for its own Greatbatch Medical brand or in association with some of its customers. As those devices gradually start hitting the market, Greatbatch executives expect those products to become a growing revenue source, beginning in the second half of this year.

The company also wants to have executives based closer to key customers for its neurostimulation market, including St. Jude Medical's neurostimulation division, located just to the south in Plano, Texas. It also hopes to tap into the academic resources available in the Dallas area for electronics research, Hook said.

"We want to be in a medical device center," he said.

The move also will put the executives in a more centralized location, making for more convenient travel to the company's more than 20 locations worldwide.

"Most of us are on the road two-thirds to three-quarters of the time," Hook said.

Greatbatch's local roots date back to 1970, when the company was founded by Wilson Greatbatch, who eight years earlier, in 1962, patented the first implantable pacemaker.

The company has since grown to become one of the Buffalo Niagara region's largest private-sector employers, with annual revenues that are expected to reach $655 million this year. Greatbatch has more than 3,500 employees across the United States and in Europe.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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Greatbatch executives heading west

>Who's moving? / Four top Greatbatch executives will move this summer. More moves are possible later.

Thomas J. Hook, president and CEO

Mauricio Arellano, president, Greatbatch Medical

Michael Dinkins, senior vice president and CFO

Daniel R. Kaiser, vice president and chief technology officer

>Where's Greatbatch's HQ going?

Frisco, Texas, a Dallas surburb

>What's staying?

All manufacturing, research and corporate services in Alden and Clarence

>How many workers remain in WNY? About 680