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Ability to be flexible helps company continue to grow

United Biochemicals comes from very humble beginnings: a 5,000-square-foot building in Niagara Falls with four employees and four customers.

But in the past 11 years, the manufacturer of raw life science materials has expanded and grown exponentially in all areas.

It now operates out of a 43,000-square-foot facility in Sanborn, has almost 115 customers and a staff of 35 employees.

"That is significant growth, and we are very pleased," said Fayyaz Hussain, president of United Biochemicals.

"This whole industry is growing at a nice pace. We're adding jobs, which is very satisfying in this economy. Overall business is going well."

So well that sales have increased 20 percent every year for the past three years, generating $12 million in revenues this year. Hussain expects that to grow to $15 million in 2012.

Hussain said he has crafted a business plan and identified a niche to ensure longevity.

"The key has been our ability to be flexible," Hussain said. "With our size and experience, we can offer companies customized biochemicals. We can do parts or the whole, and that's something larger companies don't do. And that's why we've done so well."

United Biochemicals is a bulk manufacturer and direct supplier of amino acid derivatives, biological reagents and biological buffers, in powder or liquid forms. Tris hydrochloride, a buffer, is one of its main products.

"We provide essential products for cell growth for use in biotechnology and bioprocessing," said Paul Parwulski, the firm's chief operating officer, adding the company's focus is improving health.

The company makes ingredients needed for cell and tissue growth, used in various products for humans and animals, including pharmaceuticals, vaccines and cosmetics.

"Our ingredients are in any product that deals with life sciences," Parwulski said.

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb is a customer, as well as SmartPill, Life Technologies and Mediatech.

"Sometimes a cell culture has six ingredients," Hussain explained. "And they come to us when they need one of two of those components or all of them."

Most of the companies' customers are out of the area. But with the burgeoning local life-science industry, Hussain said his company's location and manufacturing capabilities allow it to supply area research and biotechnology companies with low-cost products.

About 5 percent of United Biochemicals' sales are out of the country, and the company is looking to increase its international presence.

Hussain, a biochemist who emigrated to the area from Pakistan, worked for Life Technologies on Grand Island for 15 years before he decided to start his own business. He founded American Biorganics in 1986 and sold that biotech firm in 1995.

United Biochemicals was founded in 1996, but it was only a distributor. Hussain became the majority stakeholder in 2000 and the company started making the cell culture media components.

"If we wanted to stay in business we needed to have the capability to manufacture these products," Hussain said. "What if somebody's not making a product we need? What would we do?"

The company has four people with doctorates on staff and scientists, including a biochemist and chemist who make ingredients in powder or liquid form. With its ongoing renovations, it will increase production.

The company's buying up-to-date equipment and machinery, building separate processing rooms and making other alterations to its Sanborn facility.

The project is being funded by an $800,000 bank loan through the Small Business Administration, $120,000 from the company and a $150,000 capital grant from Empire State Development. Empire State Development took the company's impact on local life-science companies into consideration upon awarding the grant.

"Life sciences is a target industry in New York State, and by providing critical assistance to growing small business in this sector, we can ensure that they have a bright future here in Western New York," Commissioner Kenneth Adams, Empire State Development's CEO and president, said this summer when the grant was awarded. "Empire State Development's grant will not only help United Biochemicals remain in Sanborn, but will allow it to expand productivity and better compete in both new and existing markets."

When the work is done, United Biochemicals will almost double its staff, adding a wide range of positions -- from engineers to marketing experts to secretaries.

"These new sections and additions will allow us to make more products and add different products," Hussain said. "And our growth will continue."