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GRAPHIC CONTROLS: INTO THE FRAY, AGAIN

Whether the sale of Buffalo's own Graphic Controls Corp. is a cause for alarm or a new-job opportunity will be played out in the weeks ahead. But what is clear is that Mayor Masiello and public and private officials in the economic development field must pull out all the stops in an effort to bring about the most positive results possible.

This is not something on which to just trust to luck.

Less than a year ago a concerted effort to retain Graphic Controls produced a deal that gave the company extensive tax breaks for a new manufacturing building on Exchange Street and a new headquarters office in Waterfront Village. Masiello hailed it as a "triumph for the city" because it headed off an out-of-state move.

Now, that constructive effort must be recyled quickly and with determination. The private investment firm of Bessemer Holdings L.P., which has owned Graphic Controls since 1995, is selling the firm for $460 million to Bermuda-based Tyco International Ltd., which has made extensive acquisitions in the 1990s, mostly in the medical products field. Tyco has a history of moving fast to increase profits from new buys.

Graphic Controls was started here and has an honorable history in Buffalo, but these are different times. The sale was arranged by people unconnected to Buffalo. The final decision on Graphic Controls' future will be made by people similarly unconnected.

So it's into the fray again. A whole new ballgame, as they say. Masiello is ready to lead a public-private effort, pledging to meet Tyco executives "anywhere, anytime" and asserting that it is of "primary importance" that Graphic Controls and its 650 jobs be kept in Buffalo. Correct.

Construction is already in progress for the waterfront headquarters. Ronald W. Coan, executive director of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, says that part of the deal is nailed down. The Exchange Street plant, however, is not. Despite the differences, it would be wise for local officials to assume the whole matter is open-ended.

They should also explore any inviting opportunities. Duane B. Hopper, president and chief executive officer of Graphic Controls, takes a positive approach. The proposed Exchange Street manufacturing building, he points out, has extra space for expansion moves that Tyco might want to undertake. That could mean more, not fewer, jobs.

In cases where products of Graphic Controls have competed with those of Tyco-owned units, usually involving medical charts and electrodes, Graphic Controls emerged the winner most of the time, Hopper asserts.

Why should any owner, new or old, rush to break up a winner? It's a point to drive home as Buffalo tries to keep an old employer in its own hometown.

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