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Quebecor Printing Corp. has won a seven-year extension of an important contract to produce Pocket Books, helping to stabilize its Depew plant.

The Canadian printing giant announced Monday that it and Simon & Schuster had reached a multimillion-dollar agreement, whereby 600 million Pocket Books will be printed and distributed from the local factory through 2003. No further details were disclosed.

Quebecor also is planning a multimillion-dollar investment in new machinery for the printing plant, located at the TC Industrial Park in Depew. This includes about $8 million worth of presses and computerized plating equipment that's expected to be installed in late 1997 and early 1998, according to general manager Kevin J. Clarke.

"There are some really good things happening at this facility," Clarke said. "We are committed to bringing in new business and serving our present customers."

Clarke said he hopes to announce several new work orders in the future. Quebecor currently is negotiating with various publishers on about 10 printing contracts, he said.

The Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books contract extension is a crucial vote of confidence in Quebecor's Depew operation, Clarke said. It comes after the 1994 loss of an order to print Reader's Digest in the future. A competitor won that work at least partially because Quebecor and its unions couldn't reach an agreement on a no strike/no lockout clause, which would have guaranteed no disruptions in the publishing of Reader's Digest.

The loss of the Reader's Digest contract resulted in about 150 people losing their jobs, with an additional 150 expected to be gone by next year. Clarke predicted that the current payroll of 1,150 people will shrink to 1,000 sometime in 1997.

He also credited a five-year labor agreement between Quebecor and its seven unions -- which freezes wages in the first three years and calls for bonuses in the remaining years -- as a key factor in keeping the Simon & Schuster business.

"We are extremely pleased to extend this long-standing relationship with one of the industry's most respected publishers," Clarke said of Simon & Schuster. "This agreement represents a tremendous vote of confidence by a valued customer in our mass market leadership as we move into the 21st century," he said.

Pocket Books have been printed in Western New York for the last 59 years. In fact, the technology used to produce paperback books was first developed here during World War II to turn out Bibles for the GIs.

Today, Quebecor's Depew plant can print three million books in less than two days. It has earned a reputation for a quick turnaround for timely books.

The local plant "has printed our paperbacks for many years and its combination of quality, value and service has helped us to expand our Pocket Books division," said Philip Duva, senior vice president of Simon & Schuster's consumer group.

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