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Who won, who lost in 2005

The bleeding finally stopped this year for the Buffalo Niagara region.

But with dark clouds building over all of the region's auto parts plants, it won't take much of a punch to get the region's economy bleeding once again. That would only reverse the modest job gains the region enjoyed this year and put a quick end to our belated and tepid recovery from the 2001 recession.

So, as the uncertainty builds, let's look back at some of this past year's winners and losers in Western New York's business world:

>The winners

William C. Johnson -- Talk about starting your new job with a bang. A year after taking over as Graham Corp.'s chief executive, the once-sleepy heat transfer and vacuum equipment maker in Batavia is on a major roll. The company is on pace for its strongest sales in seven years as soaring oil prices have sparked a flurry of refinery upgrade projects that is causing a spike in demand for the condensers and ejector systems. Profits are soaring, the company is bolstering its engineering staff and is looking to expand its presence in fast-growing markets like China.

Brian J. Lipke -- The Gibraltar Industries CEO sure knows how to go on a shopping spree. The Hamburg steel and building products maker snapped up four companies in a three-week period in September and October, quietly transforming Gibraltar into one of the region's biggest businesses. Gibraltar now has bulked up its sales to around $1.4 billion a year, which puts it in the same league as the other big boys of Buffalo's business -- Rich Products Corp., Delaware North Cos., National Fuel Gas Co. and M&T Bank Corp.

Timothy T. Tevens -- The Columbus McKinnon Corp. CEO is a survivor. He made it through a disastrous acquisition of an auto assembly plant design business and a recession that devastated Columbus McKinnon's key industrial markets. Now, the economy is rebounding and Tevens' focus on paying back debt, coupled with the restructuring and plant closings that he made over the last few years, are making the company almost as profitable as it once was.

>The losers

Delphi Corp. workers -- No matter how Delphi's bankruptcy plays out, its 3,800 workers in Lockport are almost certain to come away from it worse off than before. A pay cut and reduced benefits might be the best they can hope for as Delphi plays hardball in its fight for lower costs. Those concessions are a better alternative than Delphi's threat to close plants, but if the cuts are deep enough, the danger is that Delphi workers will decide the pain is too great and go on strike, threatening not only Delphi's future but General Motors Corp. as well.

Mod-Pac Corp. -- It really hurts to lose your biggest customer, especially when it accounts for 37 percent of your sales. But that's what happened with Mod-Pac, and the loss has the Buffalo specialty printing and packaging firm in a swirl. Its stock lost 40 percent of its value and PrintLizard, Mod-Pac's in-house replacement for its departed VistaPrint Ltd. business, has brought in a meager $120,000 in sales as it starts up. The key for Mod-Pac is whether it can win contracts to do short-run printing from other firms that sell printed products.

Erie County taxpayers -- The sales tax is going up half a percentage point. Property taxes are rising 17 percent. Instead of diving headfirst into a comprehensive push to streamline and reform county government, County Executive Joel A. Giambra and the County Legislature still are spinning their wheels more than a year into a fiscal crisis that led to the appointment of a soft control board. So residents and business owners pay the price, while the region gets even less competitive in the struggle to revive the sagging local economy.


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