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Wheatfield to apply for $100,000 to aid fitness equipment firm

WHEATFIELD – The Wheatfield Town Board voted unanimously Monday to apply for a state grant for the benefit of a fitness equipment company moving into the town.

The plan from Robert Palka, president of Jacob’s Ladder, is to apply for $100,000 from the state Housing Trust Fund Corp., 90 percent of which would go to the business. The money originates with the federal government through the Community Development Block Grant program.

The company last month bought the vacant Motorad building at 6292 Walmore Road and intends to move its manufacturing facility there from its current site in the Wurlitzer building in North Tonawanda.

If the money is approved by the state, the town would keep $10,000 for its administrative expenses, Councilman Larry L. Helwig said. The money would be administered either directly by the town or through its local development corporation, which is dormant and would need to hire staff and obtain insurance in order to handle the task, Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks said.

Of the $90,000 for Jacob’s Ladder, it’s anticipated that half would be a term loan and the other half would be a deferred loan, which would become a grant as long as the company meets job creation thresholds.

The company’s loan repayments would go to the town or the development corporation, not to Albany.

R. Charles Bell of H. Sicherman & Co., an economic development consulting firm, said the state’s minimum job threshold is low – two full-time jobs in each of the first two years – but the town can set the bar higher. Helwig said he’d like to do that.

Also, the term of the loan repayments and the interest rate also can be set by the town, although the state agency must approve them, Bell said.

When the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency granted Jacob’s Ladder a 15-year tax break in December, the company promised to create 10 jobs. Palka said Monday he intends to double the company’s current work force of 15 within five years.

Bell said the town must decide how to administer the money and the job goals, interest rate and terms by the time the application is sent in mid-April. The Housing Trust Fund Corp. meets May 10 to decide on the applications.

The company is seeking the money because of unexpected expenses at the Motorad site. Palka said they include a sprinkler system that is estimated to cost $100,000 instead of the projected $70,000; the cost of constructing 1,200 square feet of office space; and an electrical upgrade.

If Jacob’s Ladder is rejected for the aid, Palka said, “It makes it more difficult, but we’ll find something.”

The development corporation board includes Helwig, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe and six current or former business executives.