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NCO Financial Services, one of the nation's largest collection agencies, has chosen Amherst for a major expansion expected to create 338 jobs.

The company will invest $1.3 million in an 87,000-square-foot operations center in CrossPoint Business Park, Gov. George E. Pataki announced Thursday.

NCO said last month that Amherst was under consideration for the expansion. Amherst beat out Fort Washington, Pa.; Baltimore; Mobile, Ala., and an Ontario site for an expansion that will nearly double the company's local staff to 778 workers.

"NCO's pragmatic business decision to choose Amherst over locations from Ontario to Alabama is a huge victory for Western New York," Pataki said in a press release announcing the deal.

The company will be eligible to apply for a $400,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corp., the governor's office said.

Uniland Development Co., which owns CrossPoint, has applied for a tax abatement package through the Amherst Industrial Development Agency. The 15-year abatement package would save the company almost $1.4 million in property tax, $222,573 in sales tax and $81,000 in mortgage recording tax.

The Amherst IDA is scheduled to consider the application during a meeting later this month.

If the abatement package is approved, the new facility will generate $1.6 million in county, town and school taxes over 15 years on vacant land currently generating $5,822 in combined annual taxes.

James J. Allen, executive director of the Amherst IDA, said the productivity of NCO's local work force helped lure the project.

"The hard-working employees currently working at NCO's Amherst office helped make this expansion possible," Allen said in a statement.

NCO provides accounts receivable collections for banks, health-care services, stores, utilities and educational institutions. The company, with 85 worldwide locations and more than 11,000 employees, will relocate from leased space on Dodge Road in Amherst.

The expansion is timely for the local call center industry, which has suffered from recent cuts. Cingular Wireless, formerly called Cellular One, will close a call center with 150 employees in Cheektowaga and Great Lakes Bureau has also announced layoffs.

NCO's new jobs, expected to pay an average annual salary of $35,000, will be created over three years.

"Today's announcement is great news for Amherst, NCO and all of Western New York," Assemblyman Jim Hayes, R-Amherst, said in a statement. "NCO could have gone to any number of different sites to create these jobs, but they chose Amherst. Their decision to locate in our community is the latest signal that Western New York is open for business."

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