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Buffalo Niagara Enterprise claims 10 ‘wins’ for year

The Buffalo Niagara Enterprise economic development and marketing group is claiming 10 project “wins” during the past year, its second-weakest total over the past decade but one that it says still brought more than 500 new jobs to the region.

While the number of new projects was down from the dozen “wins” of a year ago, Thomas A. Kucharski, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said the group still met its goals in an economy where companies remain hesitant to commit to major investments and expansion projects.

“We think that’s pretty positive, given the economic situation that is depressing investment,” Kucharski said during the group’s annual report to its members Tuesday. “We are indeed succeeding in our mission to attract investment to the Buffalo Niagara region.”

Despite the decline in number of new projects, those projects are expected to bring 522 new jobs to the region – the biggest annual total in the past three years – and pump $253.2 million in new investment into the area, the most since its 2010-11 fiscal year.

The new jobs are expected to pay an average of $44,819, which is about 10 percent more than the slightly more than $40,000 a year that the average job in the Buffalo Niagara region pays, the business group said in its annual report.

While the project wins are down from their pre-recession level, the group says part of that stems from its more focused approach on targeted industries. Investment levels, which dropped sharply during the recession, grew by 10 percent last year and were on par with the low end of the group’s range leading up to the recession.

Kucharski said Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is pursuing a “robust” number of leads that could turn into future projects, although the group’s goals for this year indicate that the group’s officials are expecting another challenging year in securing new projects. Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is hoping to land 12 project “wins” during the current fiscal year, bringing $100 million in new investment and 800 jobs to the region.

“It’s a very highly competitive economic development and attraction industry,” Kucharski said.

George Tobjy, a KPMG managing partner and site selection expert, said communities across the country are combatting the sluggish economy by offering more lucrative incentives and stepping up their marketing efforts.

“You’ve come a long way, but there are a lot of competitors out there,” he said.

Still, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise generated 66 new leads for potential projects and worked on 22 that reached more advanced stages of development, the group said.

“We continue to manage a robust project portfolio,” Kucharski said.

About two-thirds of the $253.2 million in new investment came from a single project: the $170 million Yahoo data center in Lockport, which is expected to create 150 jobs, or nearly 30 percent of all the jobs generated by Buffalo Niagara Enterprise-backed projects.

The results also reflected the group’s focus on advanced manufacturing and the Canadian market. Half of the projects came from foreign companies, including four that are based in Canada, led by the $48 million Welded Tube factory that opened this summer in Lackawanna.

Four of the projects were in advanced manufacturing, including a $10.5 million project by Sentient Science Corp., a software developer that moved to Buffalo from Idaho. Sentient, which makes software that helps companies predict when they will need to replace their mechanical systems, has 28 employees and hopes to boost its workforce to 50 by the end of next year, said Edward Wagner, the company’s vice president.

Three projects, including Yahoo, were in the advanced business services sector. One involved logistics and distribution, and another – the $775,000 project by Green Tower Industries to build a waste-to-energy plant locally – fell into the clean technology category.

The scale of the projects booked by the BNE last year expanded. While just a third of the group’s projects last year involved more than $4 million in investment, half of this year’s projects involved more than $10 million in capital spending. Four of the 10 projects carried investments of less than $1 million.