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Amherst IDA ranks 4th in state for job creation ; Report says agency generated 11,800 posts

Amherst Industrial Development Agency officials are citing a recent report by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli as evidence they're helping to turn the suburb into one of the Buffalo Niagara region's economic powerhouses.

The report on the state's IDAs, issued earlier this month, studied IDA activity through 2010 and found that Amherst's agency ranked fourth among the state's 114 IDAs in creating more than 11,800 net new jobs.

That was more than 23 times the statewide average of 498 new jobs and six times more than its nearest competitor in the Buffalo Niagara region, where the Erie County IDA's projects generated 1,926 net new jobs.

Amherst IDA officials cited the findings as proof that the agency makes a positive contribution to the region's economic development efforts at a time when suburban IDAs are under fire for aiding a growing list of retail-oriented projects, from pizzerias and wine stores to medical offices and children's entertainment centers.

"By any standard, ranking fourth in the state for net job change would seem to fly in the face of critics who say we don't create any jobs," said James J. Allen, the agency's executive director, during the IDA's board meeting on Friday.

Edward Stachura, an IDA board member, said the agency's increased focus on redevelopment projects in targeted neighborhoods has allowed the IDA to provide more aid to smaller businesses in recent years.

"We are successful," he said. "We have a plan, and we can measure our success."

The comptroller's study found that the Amherst IDA was involved with 141 projects with a total value of $713 million. The IDA provided those projects with $4.2 million in net tax breaks, after including the payments those businesses made under payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements.

Those projects created 11,836 net new jobs, at a cost of $358 per job, which was about a fifth of the statewide median of $1,661 per job.

In comparison, the Erie County IDA was involved with 321 projects valued at nearly $4 billion. Those projects created 1,926 net new jobs, at a cost of $6,691 in incentives for every job gained, the report said.

Amherst IDA officials also said the town is playing an even greater role in the region's overall economy. U.S. Census data from 2010 shows that more than 87,100 workers commute to Amherst every day, up 12 percent from 77,500 in 2002. The 104,100 jobs in the town are 7 percent more than in 2002.

About 16 percent of the people who work in Amherst actually live in the town. More than 35,000 Amherst residents work in other communities, the Census data showed.

"Anybody who says Amherst is not a regional employment center doesn't understand these numbers," Allen said.