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Proposed car seat foam factory would bring 60 jobs to Wheatfield

WHEATFIELD – A factory that would produce car seat foam for export to Canada is being proposed for an industrial park controlled by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, with a state and local incentive package in the works.

Sixty jobs would be created as soon as production begins, which would be in January 2017 if the developer, Montante Group of the Town of Tonawanda, meets its goal of breaking ground in October.

Montante would lease the plant to the manufacturer, Bridgestone APM, a subsidiary of the Japanese-owned Bridgestone Corp., whose website says it is the world’s largest manufacturer of tire and rubber products.

Bridgestone APM is headquartered in Sandusky, Ohio.

The Niagara County Legislature has called a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to set a public hearing date on a county application for a $750,000 state grant to the company, which would come from the state Office of Community Renewal. And the IDA board will receive an application Wednesday for a property tax and sales tax break on the $12.3 million project.

The tax incentives are estimated to save the company almost $3.2 million over the 15-year life of the abatement.

The 65,000-square-foot plant is to be built on a nearly 12-acre parcel of land in Vantage International Point, the IDA-controlled industrial park on Lockport Road near Walmore Road in Wheatfield. The Montante company is to purchase that but has not yet done so, IDA Project Manager Susan C. Langdon said.

“There are now less than three developable acres remaining in our business park. This marks the fulfillment of our 2004 promise to fully develop the Vantage International Point industrial park,” said County Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport. The county had obtained it through a tax foreclosure in 1999.

IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said the point of the deal is “60 good jobs in the manufacturing arena.” The company’s application says the salaries at the polyurethane foam factory would range from $53,500 to $116,000 a year. The jobs would include engineers, production operators, materials handlers, maintenance workers, accountants and quality control officers.

Empire State Development handed the project off to Niagara County without revealing the company. Sloma said that at first, the deal was simply code-named “Project F.”

“This is a very complicated project, one of the most complicated we’ve done,” Sloma said Thursday. “Apparently it was a competitive review with us and some other county in the state – don’t know who that is.”

A site selection company from North Carolina scouted out the location and worked with the IDA in great detail.

“It was a long and tedious process landing this,” Sloma said. “The company is very anxious to go forward.”

Also on Wednesday’s IDA agenda is a Florida group’s plan to reopen and revitalize a shuttered hydroponic vegetable greenhouse on Shawnee Road in Wheatfield.

Wheatfield Gardens LLC, a new company based in Jacksonville, Fla., has acquired the site and intends to employ 85 people within three years growing a wide variety of veggies, some of which will be designated organic and others kosher.

The $2.5 million investment in the 12.5-acre greenhouse includes the installation of new growing technology that will enable to plant to produce crops year-round. A 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement would save the company an estimated $246,000.

Also on tap is the agency’s 14th hotel project in recent years, a proposal for an extreme makeover of the longtime EconoLodge on Rainbow Boulevard in Niagara Falls into a 110-room “upper-midscale hotel” with a different brand name. The $11.3 million project by Rupal Corp., headed by Babu Patel, calls for a 40,000-square-foot multistory addition that would include ground-level retail space. The project seeks a 10-year tax break and would create 24 jobs, most of them full time.

The IDA board has recently been criticized by labor unions for giving tax breaks to small hotels and motels, and the board intends to discuss its policies during a workshop meeting Wednesday. Sloma defended the IDA’s current course.

“I think we’re rebuilding the infrastructure for tourism in Niagara Falls,” he said. “Some of these hotels were really dumps. Now they’re upgrading. I don’t know why anyone would object to that.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com