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BNE cites 19 'wins' despite tough economy Group's successes include 810 pledged new jobs

Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is reporting 19 project "wins" from its fiscal year ended June 30, down just one from the year before.

BNE defines a "win" as a project that has firmly committed to locating or expanding in Buffalo Niagara, for which the BNE served as the project manager.

The 19 wins consist of 810 pledged new jobs and 544 retained jobs, for a combined total of 1,354 jobs, BNE officials said. The projects add up to a pledged investment of $336.8 million, a figure dominated by the $300 million associated with a Yahoo! data center planned for Niagara County.

BNE will discuss the results this morning at its annual meeting at the Avant building.

In pledged new jobs, the leader among the 19 wins was Cavalry Portfolio Services, a debt collection firm which announced plans to add 175 jobs in Amherst. Second to the blockbuster investment by Yahoo! was API Heat Transfer, which pledged to invest $9.54 million in its local expansion.

The total number of pledged new and retained jobs was down 29 percent from 1,920 the previous year, while the investment figure skyrocketed from $70.3 million. BNE matched the wins goal it had set at the start of the 2008-09 fiscal year, finished slightly below its goal of 1,500 jobs, and exceeded its target of $238 million in new investment.

BNE also identified two "partner projects" it was involved in during the past year: expansions by Curtis Screw and Vishay Thin Film Inc. It was involved in six such partner projects the year before.

Tom Kucharski, BNE's chief executive officer, said unlike a lot of comparable business attraction groups in the Northeast and Midwest, BNE last year did not revise downward its goals in the face of the Wall Street meltdown and the national housing slump. He also said the group has a full "pipeline" of leads that could produce future deals.

Because of the June 30 cutoff for the annual report, BNE's roster of wins did not include GEICO Corp., which announced last month it planned to add at least 300 jobs in Amherst over the next three years.

Kucharski said BNE, which was founded 10 years ago, has put a greater focus on the emerging renewable energy industry. He noted the group in July hosted a symposium on business opportunities in wind power that drew a far stronger turnout than expected.

An industry such as wind power holds the promise of reviving dormant factories or generating new business for existing manufacturers, such as those hit hard by the auto slump, Kucharski said.

"A lot of these companies that have been around a long time have been trying to find a way to survive at this point," he said.

BNE in the past couple of years returned to concentrating primarily on business attraction, handing off most business retention duties to other economic development agencies in the area. The BNE still gets involved in some retention efforts where necessary, Kucharski said.

David Smith, BNE's chairman, said the organization is actively courting expansions by companies from Canada, to take advantage of Buffalo Niagara's proximity to the border. About one third of the "wins" in BNE's latest report involved Canadian companies.

"We're geographically fortunate in that regard," Smith said.

For 2009-10, BNE has set goals of 18 wins, 1,500 jobs, and $150 million in new capital investment. BNE said it started its new campaign with 166 active leads and 39 active projects.

From 1999 to the present, BNE claims 204 wins, $3.7 billion in pledged capital investment, 14,605 jobs created and 17,347 jobs retained.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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