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ECIDA OKs tax break for new call center 135 jobs expected at Orchard Park facility

Pentagroup Financial, a Houston-based debt collection agency, plans to open a call center in Orchard Park that is expected to employ 135 people within two years, economic development officials said Monday.

Pentagroup plans to open a call center in a 15,000-square-foot office at 3065 Union Road in Orchard Park, with help from a $270,000 grant from Empire State Development and $61,000 in sales tax breaks approved Monday by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

The $1 million project will allow the 4-year-old Texas company, which employs 243 people in Houston, to become the latest call center to branch out into the Buffalo Niagara region. With upwards of 60 call centers currently operating in Erie County, the industry is a growing source of jobs for the region, accounting for about 14,000 positions, said Charles Webb, the Erie County IDA's executive director.

Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan questioned the need for offering incentives to a call center, although he later voted in favor of the tax breaks in the board's unanimous vote for the incentives. "Are we not handicapping other call centers that are in competition with this one, just as we do with office buildings," he said.

Webb responded that call centers are viewed as an important industry that provides thousands of jobs for the region's residents. "That is an industry that we compete well in," Webb said. "This is a company from outside the area that could have pretty much gone anywhere."

While IDA board member and Buffalo Common Council member David Franczyk said he was not pleased to see commercial projects like Pentagroup move into the suburbs, rather than the city, Webb said the IDA's mission is to support business investment throughout the county.

"Development requires multiple jobs at multiple levels," Webb said. "You can't push somebody down because they're not making $18 an hour," since that a worker's call center earnings could be more than their earnings at their previous job.

"That person working at the call center now may be a financial analyst at M&T Bank eight years from now," he said.

The agency also approved incentives for several other local projects:

* New Era Cap Co. was granted $1.73 million in property, sales and mortgage tax breaks for its $12 million project to move its headquarters to the former Federal Reserve Bank of New York office on Delaware Avenue. The project, which is expected to create 80 new jobs over two years and boost the company's work force to 300 people, is forecast to generate an additional $971,000 in tax revenue for local governments.

* Kainos Partners LLC, which plans to open 40 Dunkin' Donuts stores in the region, was granted $64,000 in sales tax breaks to help it buy machinery and equipment for the former Stroehmann Bakery in Cheektowaga that it plans to purchase and convert into its doughnut and baked goods factory. The project is expected to create 95 jobs.

* Martin's Fantasy Island was granted $40,500 in sales tax breaks to help it buy a $500,000 "cannon bowl water ride" for the Grand Island amusement park.

* The agency agreed to seek a $1.38 million grant through the state Department of Transportation for DuPont Corp. as part of its $11.5 million project to upgrade its Corian counter top factory in the Town of Tonawanda. The grant will pay for 2,460 feet of new railroad track on the site to increase its storage capacity to 45 rail cars and allow for more efficient movement of rail traffic there.

* The agency also agreed to seek a $230,460 grant through the state Department of Economic Development for Perry's Ice Cream Co., that will allow the Akron company to acquire new equipment to recycle water and reduce its natural gas consumption.

* Advantage Housewares, which operates as Robinson Home Products, was given an extra two months to move forward with its $6 million project to move from Cheektowaga to a portion of the former Buffalo China facility on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo.

Robinson Home Products has yet to receive the required consent from the Cheektowaga Town Board that it needs to receive Empire Zone benefits. State law requires that the municipality losing a business to an Empire Zone conduct a public hearing and give its formal consent for the company to receive the incentives available through Empire Zones.

The town conducted the public hearing on Feb. 6, but town officials last month delayed any action on whether to grant their approval to the move until they could discuss it during a work session.

Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis Gabryszak said the board is expected to discuss the move during its work session today, but "I can't guarantee" approval.

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra urged Cheektowaga officials to approve the move, saying the company had been "very aggressively" approached by other states, namely an offer from Virginia to use the Port of Norfolk. "This company had every opportunity to leave," Giambra said.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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