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Deal by Rich could bring 90 jobs here
Massachusetts drink-maker starts with 30 hires for March production on West Side

Rich Products Corp. has reached an agreement with a Massachusetts-based beverage-maker that is expected to bring as many as 90 jobs to Buffalo -- 30 of them immediate openings. Some of the jobs are being filled by those who lost work when Rich ended its local manufacturing last summer.

Island Oasis, a maker of fruit- and dairy-based drinks, will operate in Rich's production facility on Niagara Street, across from Rich's headquarters.

The agreement comes after Rich Products, which produces food and beverages, ended its Buffalo-based drink production to concentrate on core products and began exploring other options for the plant.

Rich says the new deal, which got under way in July and closed in November, is intended to improve the local community.

"It's important for companies like Rich to take an active interest in the community, and we are proud to have created this opportunity to bring new jobs to Buffalo," President and CEO William G. Gisel Jr. said in a news release. "We look forward to welcoming Island Oasis to our community and as our newest neighbors on Buffalo's West Side."

Island Oasis has hired about 15 former Rich employees after being courted to move into the Niagara Street facility. Rich Products learned of Island Oasis' Northeast expansion plans when Rich began using a subsidiary, Island Aseptics, to produce its nonrefrigerated drinks in Ohio last year.

Rich touted Buffalo's experienced work force, the benefits of an existing beverage-making facility and the background of its own former employees, who average 20-plus years in the industry.

"They clearly said you should have a look at our employees," Island Oasis President Anthony Battaglia said. "They bent over backwards to help us bring people back."

Island Oasis expects to fill the remaining slots in its first hiring wave with others from among the 31 employees who were at the Rich plant when it closed last summer.

The company expects that all 30 positions will have been filled by sometime in February so workers can be trained on new equipment for larger-scale production in March. The company has spent several million dollars on capital improvements and equipment, which will require employees to get extensive training at the Island Aseptics facility in Byesville, Ohio.

Battaglia said Island Oasis chose Buffalo because "it had two things we needed: the processing we have been looking for, [nonrefrigerated drink] production, and geographic location, the Northeast corridor."

Rich spokesman Dwight M. Gram said the opportunity to leverage Island Oasis' beverage experience is a "win-win for that company and the city."

Both companies believe that the Niagara Street location better suits Island Oasis' needs.

"They have a broader beverage product line than we have," Gram said. "All companies base their strategies on their core products. We continue to offer beverages, but the reality is that that is not our strategy."

Rich is focusing more on its other offerings such as toppings, icings and fillings.

Battaglia said, "It's different for us. We have a large amount of business to move into the plant from other locations."

e-mail: vsherry@buffnews.com

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