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State grant awarded to Wheatfield fitness equipment maker

WHEATFIELD – Jacobs Ladder, a fitness equipment manufacturer that recently moved to a new plant in Wheatfield, has been awarded $100,000 by a state agency.

It’s the latest incentive for the company’s move from the Wurlitzer Industrial Park in North Tonawanda to the former Motorad plant on Walmore Road. Jacobs Ladder in December received a 15-year tax break, worth an estimated $421,000, from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

The Wheatfield Town Board voted in March to apply for the grant from New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

The $100,000 Community Development Block Grant Small Business Program award will bolster the company as it plans to increase production and increase its work force from 20 jobs to about 30.

Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said the town will keep $7,000 of the state’s $100,000 for administrative expenses, either for the town directly or its local development corporation; those agencies have yet to make an agreement. There also will be $3,000 used to hire a consultant to help with the red tape.

As for the $90,000 going to Jacobs Ladder, Cliffe said $55,000 will take the form of a deferred loan that becomes a grant if Jacobs Ladder meets employment benchmarks. The remaining $35,000 will be a seven-year loan with payments and interest going to the town or its development corporation, Cliffe said.

The fitness equipment was invented and patented in 1994 by a Hamburg construction worker, Steven Nichols, but his efforts to transform it into a viable business foundered. In 2004, Robert Palka, a former engineer and purchasing manager at the Lockport Delphi plant, bought the rights and went to work transforming the prototype into a business.

The company’s big breakthrough came when its fitness machine was used for workouts on the TV show “The Biggest Loser” in 2009. The company has produced more than 7,000 exercise machines for customers in the United States and 49 other countries, and currently sells its equipment through 78 national and two international dealerships. During the last three years, sales have increased by 40 percent.

James S. Rubin, Homes and Community Renewal commissioner, said, “Anyone looking at the products this company produces, and the number and geographic spread of its clients could be forgiven for assuming that Jacobs Ladder is already a big business. In fact they are a local, small, but growing business with big ideas and an international reach.”

He said the award is in line with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desire to assist New York businesses.

In the last two years, four other projects have been helped by Rubin’s agency in western Niagara County. They include grants of $750,000 for a Bridgestone tire plant and $266,000 for a Borderworx Logistics warehouse, both in the Vantage International Point industrial park off Lockport Road in Wheatfield, controlled by the county IDA. Borderworx is expected to open this year and Bridgestone in 2017.

In North Tonawanda, Platters Chocolates was granted $100,000 to finance its upcoming move to larger space in the Wurlitzer plant. The other state grant was nearly $600,000 to the Town of Niagara for the replacement of drainage systems in the Belden Center neighborhood.