Ask an outsider about Buffalo and you’ll hear about the Bills and the Sabres, chicken wings and snow. Some might even mention incredible architecture, great museums and beef on weck. But it takes a local or a well-informed visitor to mention breakfast cereal. As the T-shirt proudly declares, “My city smells like Cheerios.” Soon, if it works out, it could also smell like Chex.
That effort is underway as Buffalo’s General Mills plant competes with other, more modern, company locations for the job of producing Corn Chex and Honey Nut Chex at the manufacturing facility that now fills the waterfront area with the instantly recognizable aroma of Cheerios. The $25 million project would help to further secure more than 400 existing jobs.
To that end, the factory wants to buy new cereal processing and packaging equipment and also to upgrade its systems for unloading ingredients and its large packaging and handling systems. To support the plant in its quest, the New York Power Authority last week approved a $500,000 grant. It comes on top of 5,100 kilowatts of low-cost hydropower and 500 kilowatts of electricity from the ReCharge NY program. General Mills receives those allocations from the Power Authority in exchange for retaining 400 jobs at the Buffalo plant. The new grant will help the plant retain another 17 positions. Empire State Development also has awarded $500,000 in tax credits to the company.
All in all, that level of public support should help make the plant an attractive candidate for the assignment of producing the additional cereal lines. Plainly, it will also help to secure the plant’s future here if it upgrades its infrastructure to be modern and competitive with other General Mills operations.
From a municipal perspective, this opportunity could hardly come at a better time. Buffalo is on the rise, with new jobs about to flood in at the still-arising RiverBend project, where SolarCity will operate the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. IBM is coming to downtown Buffalo, and the waterfront is suddenly on track to meet what has been a long-squandered potential.
Some of this might actually add pressure to operations of the General Mills plant. Its once remote-ish location near the mouth of the Buffalo River is attracting more people as residents and visitors discover the city’s hidden and developing charms. As conditions change, the city and company will need to work together in a way that allows the company to operate safely and efficiently even as Buffalo makes the best use of its single greatest asset: its place at the western end of Lake Erie.
Still, change is the constant in life and, with the leadership of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rep. Brian Higgins, Buffalo is changing in ways that residents could have hardly dared hope for just 10 years ago. It’s reassuring that the leaders of the General Mills plant see that those changes are not only consistent with its mission here, but with its efforts to expand the plant’s value to the company and, with it, its value to Buffalo.
Here’s hoping our city will soon smell like the heavenly combination of Cheerios and Chex, too.