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State grants give boost to worker training; Ronco receives $50,000 share to provide employees the skills to keep competitive edge

Ronco Communications and Electronics says its cannot afford to let its workers fall behind in their training in communications technology.

Some product makers Ronco works with require certification, and if the Town of Tonawanda-based company cannot keep up, its competitors surely will.

The $50,000 state grant Ronco was awarded did not cover all of its training expenses for 25 of its technical employees, but it was an essential piece, said Christopher P. Wasp, the president. "It just helps accelerate [the training] a bit."

Ronco received a slice of the $682,000 in training funds awarded to area companies by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. Applications are being accepted for the next round of training grants.

Sam Hoyt, Empire State Development's regional president, visited Ronco on Monday to highlight the grants. Hoyt said that in his travels, business executives have stressed to him the value of worker-training assistance. Such help is sometimes "as important or more important than purchasing new equipment, than upgrading facilities," he said.

The state grants are not automatic for applicants, Hoyt said. "People will be turned down. It's competitive. There is a finite amount of money. But the response has been favorable, and we anticipate an even better response in the next round."

In the first round, seven local companies, including Ronco, were awarded $50,000 grants, state officials said. Overall, grants to recipients in the region ranged from about $2,400 to $88,000.

Ronco has about 320 employees around the country, including about 150 who work in the Buffalo area. It projects revenues of about $90 million this year.

The company builds and intergrates technology systems for a variety of customers, including schools, businesses and health care facilities. The applications include computer and telephone networks, paging and sound systems, videoconferencing and public-address systems.

In describing the training, Wasp mentioned a technician Ronco recently hired who was familiar with a specific router product Ronco uses, "but she needed to get educated on the network piece."

"Now we have the ability to support new technology," he said.

Hoyt said the Worker Skills Upgrading program, which the state Labor Department administers, reflects Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's approach to economic development.

"The governor recognizes that it isn't just about starting new companies, but it's about making sure that the existing companies anywhere in New York State remain competitive, and that means providing job training dollars," he said.

Ronco is not letting up. It plans to apply for training funds in the next round of grants, as well, Wasp said.

Companies interested in applying for the grants can go to is overdrawn

A variety of programs can be applied for at the website. Applications are due by 4 p.m. July 16, except for Recharge NY, NYSERDA Energy Efficiency Projects and Empire State Development's Excelsior Jobs Program.