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For Kevin Hanrahan, a Buffalo investment analyst, the Western New York Investors Conference meant having the chance to look in the eyes of some of the top executives at public companies based in the Buffalo Niagara region and quiz them on their business plans.

For Kevin T. Keane, the chairman of Mod-Pac Corp., a commercial printing company, the conference offered thechance for company officials to talk about the firm's business and its strategy for the future with investment advisers and analysts who otherwise might not have known about the Buffalo-based company.

And for the organizers of the invitation-only event, which drew about 100 people during its first day and is expected to attract up to 250 people during its two-day run, which continues today, the second annual conference put a spotlight on the investment opportunities that can be found in the stocks of companies based in the Buffalo and Rochester areas.

More than half the money managers who registered to attend the conference came from outside Western New York, melding with the organizers' goal of making the local companies more familiar to a new group of potential investors.

"We had an excellent conference last year, and I think, with word of mouth, that spread," said Christopher Carosa, one of the conference organizers and the manager of the Bullfinch Fund's Western New York Series mutual fund. The Western New York Series fund, which invests only in companies that have operations in the region, ranks in the top 20 for five-year returns among multi-cap value funds, according to fund tracker Lipper Inc.

The conference brought together money managers with executives from local companies ranging from Columbus McKinnon and Wilson Greatbatch Technologies to smaller ones like Mod-Pac. Other local companies, including M&T Bank, Sovran Self Storage, Computer Task Group and Gibraltar Industries are scheduled to make presentations today.

Each of the 19 participating companies make 40-minute presentations that describe their business and outline their future plans, while also giving money managers the chance to ask questions and meet later with executives in informal sessions.

"Meeting the management and talking to the management is important," said Hanrahan, a vice president at Buffalo investment firm Harold C. Brown. "But the reason I think it's key is that you get to know the management, so if you have a question and you call the management, they know who you are. If they don't know who you are, they might not be as likely to return your phone call."

For Mod-Pac, which has no analyst coverage and, with less than $50 million in annual sales, is too small to be noticed by some managers, the conference gave C. Anthony Rider, the company's vice president of finance, the chance to outline its strategy for building its printing business.

That includes investing 10 percent to 20 percent of its annual sales into new equipment that will improve productivity and capacity, while also allowing the company to process orders quickly, often on the same day they're received, Rider said. The company also is pushing to sell more -- and different products -- to its customers.

"The idea is to expand our product portfolio so we can cross-sell to our carton customers," he said. "We just want to do their other printing."

That was a theme pushed by executives from First Niagara Financial Group, the Pendleton-based banking company that wants to expand its relationship with its customers beyond banking to include other products, ranging from mutual funds to home equity loans and insurance.

"Our vision for the future is that if we're the gatekeeper for the customer, there's a wide range of services we can provide," said John R. Koelmel, First Niagara's executive vice president and chief financial officer.


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