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Companies receiving assistance from Buffalo's main development agency added 1,200 new jobs to their payrolls, according to figures released Tuesday, but that was less than half the agency's goal.

The 236 firms created 2,739 new jobs, but eliminated 1,500. The net gain of 1,239 is far below the 3,000 new jobs that the Masiello administration had hoped to create annually through 2001.

Mayor Masiello said the report issued Tuesday by the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. indicates that the city is moving in the right direction, but not at the pace that he would like to see.

"We're doing better, but I'm still not satisfied. If we didn't have some unfortunate closings at the end of the year, our job numbers would have been much better," the mayor said.

He referred to job losses that were announced in the last quarter of the year at River Ranch Fresh Foods, Graphic Controls and Westwood-Squibb Pharmaceutical Inc., three companies that received city assistance.

Alan H. DeLisle, president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., said the year-end report shows that the agency is getting a good "return on investment" when compared with national averages compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the federally funded block grant program.

He said for each new job created last year, the agency spent $1,372 in block grant funds, only 46 percent of the $2,970 national average.

"We're extremely pleased that this agency spent nearly $1,600 less for every job created when compared with other regions," DeLisle said. "But we know that we need to work on creating even more jobs in the coming year."

The agency has set a goal of creating 2,000 new jobs in 1999 and DeLisle said he thinks the number is attainable, based on some projects that are currently planned.

DeLisle said staffers and directors will be reviewing every facet of the agency in the coming months in hopes of devising a "strategic plan" that will improve efficiency and make the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. more responsive to the needs of local businesses.

A year ago, Masiello consolidated most business development functions under the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. and appointed DeLisle, the city's community development commissioner, to head the agency. The figures released Tuesday could be considered DeLisle's first formal report card as he begins his second year.

"Looking at the numbers, I would give us a solid 'B.' There's clear room for improvement, but I think this shows the job outlook in Buffalo is better than what many people think," he said.

The state Labor Department only compiles job figures on a regional basis and could not verify city-specific job trends. But regional economist George P. Smyntek said Erie and Niagara counties saw a net annual job gain of 400 since December 1997. Smyntek said there were about 553,200 jobs in the two-county region.

"We're seeing the continuation of slow growth," Smyntek said.

Officials from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the area's largest business advocacy group, have not yet seen the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. report. But Julie R. Hazzan, director of communications, said the numbers appear to be realistic.

"Based on the job retention efforts that we've seen, it certainly sounds like the net job gain they're talking about is reasonable," she said.

The 236 Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.-assisted companies had combined sales that exceeded $1.8 billion in 1998. Masiello said he is pleased that some of the new and expanding businesses are in five targeted "growth sectors," including medical, manufacturing and trade-distribution.

DeLisle said the agency closed 23 new loans last year that provided more than $17 million to businesses. Other highlights included:

Signing a deal with the Orchard Park-based Biosight Inc. to build a facility at Main and Virginia streets that will house six medical-product companies. The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. provided a $300,000 loan for a project that is expected to bring 75 new high-paying jobs to the city over two years.

Continued work on construction of the $2.3 million William Gaiter Business Center in the Kensington-East Delavan neighborhood.

Participation in a joint effort with the Amherst Industrial Development Agency and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to market the area as an attractive place for high-technology companies.

"When I look at some of the things we're involved in, I think we're going to see even bigger job gains in the coming year," DeLisle said.

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