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Economic message rejects 'victim status' for Niagara Development report by Updegrove positive amid national decline

"We will not claim victim status as the national economy contracts," Niagara County Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove proclaimed during an economic-development report at last week's meeting of the Legislature.

In presenting the annual update on the county's job-creation efforts, the Lockport Republican touted the Industrial Development Agency and various programs, ranging from allocations of low-cost electricity to loans for those seeking to redevelop brownfields.

The latter effort, funded for the first time in 2008 through a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gives the county the ability to lend to companies that want to open a new business on the contaminated site of a previous one.

Santarosa Holdings, a Niagara Falls company that makes old tires into fuel and other products, was given the first and only loan so far by the newly created Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp. It will use the $250,000 loan to help its efforts to reuse the old Union Carbide plant on College Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Another initiative in 2008 was an outreach to so-called "water-starved states" in the South struggling with drought. Legislator Andrea L. McNulty, D-North Tonawanda, said the program started from a conversation between her and Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro.

However, the leads generated by the county's efforts to promote itself at business gatherings in Alabama and North Carolina all were Canadian companies, not Southern ones.

McNulty said they were interested in "the opportunity to explore Niagara County's business climate as a key hub for international trade."

For the last four years, McNulty told the Legislature, the county's economic-development staff has been working in Ontario, trying to lure firms across the bridges if they are interested in entering the U.S. market.

A major success in that area in 2008 was Transcom North America, which was given an IDA tax break to set up a call center in The Summit, a Wheatfield mall, and create up to 150 jobs.

"None of this suggests that Niagara County's economy does not feel the pressure exerted by the weakened U.S. economy," McNulty said. "The year ahead will be trying, and we must ensure that pro-growth policies continue to be the touchstone of this Legislature's economic-development agenda."

Updegrove pointed to the potential of using the county's Niagara Power Project electricity allocation for assistance to businesses.

The Empower Niagara program, set up with the electricity allocation from the Power Project relicensing, already has helped two companies, Russell Farms of Newfane and Vishay Thin Film of Wheatfield.

The latter electronics firm was threatening to move a production line to Mexico until the county stepped in to preserve 20 of the company's 224 jobs by lowering the company's power costs. But the terms of the power allocation require Vishay to keep all 224 jobs in Wheatfield as a condition of receiving the electricity.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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