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First Niagara defends move to Buffalo

Spokeswomen for Empire State Development Corp. and First Niagara Bank said Wednesday the agency and the bank were not trying to harm Niagara County in a deal that will see the bank move its corporate headquarters from Pendleton to Buffalo.

They said that Niagara County is not losing any jobs in the deal, as the fast-growing bank is creating some 300 new positions in Buffalo.

Only about 50 of the 315 workers at the Pendleton headquarters will be transferred to Buffalo, bank spokeswoman Helen Tederous said. And those jobs will be replaced by new ones as the Pendleton building remains at full capacity as a "back office" site, she said.

The state agency gave First Niagara a $1.3 million grant to facilitate the move of its headquarters to the Larkin Building from its current site at South Transit and Tonawanda Creek roads.

The Niagara County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday blasting the move and calling on the State Legislature to pass a law barring Empire State Development from funding moves of businesses from one county to another.

Katie Krawczyk, upstate public affairs director for Empire State Development, said the corporation's top priority is creating and maintaining jobs in New York.

"We are pleased with our work on this deal as we were not only able to bring 300 new, high-paying jobs to both Niagara and Erie counties, but we also helped to secure the company's existing work force of over 1,000 employees across upstate New York," she said.

"First Niagara will be maintaining the current number of positions they have at their Niagara County office while expanding this facility to serve as their main administrative office. It was important to ESD to ensure that both Erie and Niagara Counties benefited from First Niagara's expansion," Krawczyk added.

The sponsor, Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, said she would have liked to see those 300 new jobs in Niagara County.

She also railed against the lack of notice the bank gave Niagara County officials. "It's another case of Niagara County being marginalized and ignored," she said.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said he didn't find out about the deal until 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10, the night before it was announced.

Niagara County, whose Economic Development Department has a business retention operation, was never given a chance to try to keep the headquarters, Kimble complained.

"I think we gave them appropriate notice," Tederous said. "We really tried to be transparent and open. We really care about our community in Niagara County and Erie County."

She said First Niagara employs 526 people in Niagara County, counting the workers at its branches in the county, and that number will grow. However, Tederous was unable to provide a projected number of new jobs in Niagara.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, called for Empire State Development to send someone to a future Legislature meeting to be questioned about the Larkin Building deal. Ross said he will make that request.

"We will be happy to review such an invitation if and when we do receive it," Krawczyk said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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