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STATE HELPING BRASS PLANT IMPROVE RAIL, ROAD ACCESS

Outokumpu American Brass has enjoyed strong growth at its plant on Military Road in recent years.

Trouble is, the plant's accessibility to trucks and railroad cars hasn't kept pace. "We're choking," said Warren Bartel, the company's president.

That's changing, though. The copper, brass and rolling mill is improving its road and rail access to reduce traffic tie-ups and allow vehicles to move in and out more efficiently.

Outokumpu, one the region's leading manufacturers with 870 employees, is getting some help with its investment. State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, has secured a $500,000 grant from the state's Multi-Modal Transportation Program, a $350 million fund created four years ago. And additional funds are expected to flow into the project from a state Department of Transportation program.

Work on the improved facilities is under way and should be completed within two years, Bartel said.

One of the adjustments the plant is making: shifting the entrance for trucks, since a new school, Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence, has opened across the street. "We don't want our trucks competing with school buses," he said.

Jack Williams, president of United Steel Workers of America Local 593, said the work will make it a lot easier for trucks to load and unload shipments at the plant and ease traffic congestion created on Military Road.

Bartel said the plant's output has increased 50 percent in the past five or six years. During that time, he said, the company has concentrated on investing in what was needed to step up production. Now the plant will try to cure the traffic problems that have accompanied that growth.

The plant will also make improvements to the railway that serves the site, he said.

In March, Outokumpu announced it would add 60 jobs to handle a new product line. The company was awarded some low-cost electricity to support the project through the state's "Power for Jobs" program.

Hoyt said the work that the $500,000 grant will assist with ensures the manufacturer can continue to grow. "These improvements are important for the future of Outokumpu American Brass, which is in turn important for the future of the Western New York economy," he said.

Bartel said he's pleased with the support that Outokumpu has received from both the state legislature and the governor's office as an existing company that's expanding.

Outokumpu has also been supportive of both Hoyt and Gov. George Pataki. State campaign contributions records show that over the past two years, the company has contributed $1,000 to Pataki and $640 to Hoyt.

Michael Fleischer, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said no final decisions have yet been made on giving Outokumpu more state money for the access work. "We are looking at ways to assist the company's operations," he said.

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