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Outfront plans to buy Buffalo Metal plant; Canadian firm to get $61,000 in tax breaks

A Canadian company that makes portable retail displays plans to buy the Buffalo Metal Fabricating plant on Wecker Street as part of a push to set up operations in the United States.

Outfront Portable Solutions was granted $61,000 in sales tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday for its $2.55 million project to buy and renovate the Buffalo Metal site at 50 Wecker, near East Delavan and Bailey avenues.

The company plans to retain the eight jobs at Buffalo Metal and create 49 additional positions within the next three years, IDA officials said.

Outfront makes portable garden center products, structures and merchandise displays for stores such as Home Depot, Walmart, Wegmans and Tops Markets. The company is part of a broader business based in Beamsville, Ont., that makes portable garden center products, industrial buildings and fencing.

Outfront had been seeking to set up operations in the United States in order to provide products that could be marketed as being made in America, IDA officials said.

The company had been working with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise business development and marketing group about opportunities in the region. At the same time, Buffalo Metal officials had contacted the Erie County IDA about aid for its struggling business, where employment had dropped to eight workers.

"This project really came about as a cooperative effort," said John Cappellino, the IDA's executive vice president. "It was a nice match."

The project also is expected to throw a lifeline to workers at Buffalo Metal. "I think it's safe to say that, if [Buffalo Metal] is not sold, there would be some jeopardy as to its future."

Outfront plans to renovate the 55,000-square-foot building, which is in poor condition and needs a new roof, and build a 10,000-square-foot addition. The company also plans to purchase $500,000 in new equipment and machinery.

"I think it's a good value for the overall community," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. "They're taking a facility that otherwise might close."

The jobs Outfront plans to create are expected to pay an average of $40,000 a year, Cappellino said.

"This is a good investment in a company that will create jobs in the community," said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.

In other matters, IDA board member Betty Jean Grant said developer Carl P. Paladino has agreed to set aside two apartments in the Graystone Building for low-income residents. The lack of a commitment to set aside some of the Graystone's apartments for low-income residents was the reason why Grant, an Erie County legislator, and Poloncarz voted against tax breaks for the $5.3 million project last month.

Al Culliton, the IDA's chief operating officer, also said the agency is interested in reviving its venture capital investment program, which has been largely inactive for the last few years, as part of its efforts to aid developing businesses.

The agency had made more than 30 investments through its program but stopped during the administration of former Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

"We need to be the lenders where other people are shying away," said Culliton, who noted that a lack of funding is a main reason why technology and products originating here often end up being developed elsewhere.

"We have to put a major effort in that area if we want to be successful," Culliton said.

As part of its venture capital program, the IDA invested $8 million in local companies and has been repaid $10 million in cash. As a result of the venture program, the IDA currently owns about $4 million in the stock of Synacor Inc., the Buffalo-based Internet content provider that went public in February.