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Bridgestone prepares to open Wheatfield plant, bars media from ribbon-cutting

WHEATFIELD – A subsidiary of the Japan-based Bridgestone Corp. is to employ 90 people manufacturing foam for car seats in a new plant where a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday.

The $13.5 million project was supported in part by state funds and tax breaks from Niagara County, but the ceremony was to have been kept secret, and a Buffalo News reporter who showed up for the event was ejected.

“This is a private event. Please leave,” said Todd Hole, corporate director of Bridgestone ATM Co., who said the decision to bar the media was a corporate decision and he was not allowed to comment further.

The incentive package given to Bridgestone included $1.2 million worth of Excelsior tax credits and a $750,000 grant from the state, plus a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, which was estimated to save the company almost $3.2 million in property and sales taxes.

No notice of the event was sent to media outlets. The News learned of it when Niagara County Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro mentioned it during a meeting of the county IDA, which was held earlier Wednesday in the same industrial park where Bridgestone built its 65,000-square-foot plant.

“I wish the media was invited. If it were up to me, I would have invited you in. I believe in transparency,” said Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, D-Lewiston, who said he spoke during the ceremony.

He added, “It’s difficult at this time to say anything negative about the company because they are bringing those 90 jobs here, good-paying jobs.”

“This was new for Niagara County. This is a business. People should know about it,” said W. Keith McNall, the County Legislature chairman. “This is fantastic that they came here to Niagara County.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office issued a news release after the ceremony. Hole also issued a news release quoting Bridgestone APM President Noriyuki “Duke” Kawai as saying, “We are excited that this new location in Niagara County, New York, is the next step in growth for Bridgestone APM Co. Bridgestone APM Co. continues to take its responsibility very seriously to be a responsible and long-term corporate citizen and local supporters in all of the communities in which we have facilities.”

Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said he was told 60 of the 90 jobs would be filled by the end of the year.

Salaries for workers are to begin at $53,500 a year, according to the application for IDA benefits.

“During the Planning Board process, there was talk that if it went well, there could be a second building,” Cliffe said.

“There’s talk about increasing more jobs in the future,” Ceretto confirmed.

The Montante Group, a Town of Tonawanda company, bought nearly 12 acres from the IDA and agreed to lease the plant to Bridgestone. Montante employed as many as 60 people to build the plant, company president Douglas D. Elia said. Ground was broken in late October.

“It was a really aggressive schedule,” Elia said. He said when his company was hired in August 2015, no design or plan was available for the plant and no permits had been obtained.

“We all pulled together as a team through the fall of last year and got everything wrapped up,” said Elia. He said the building was finished last month, slightly ahead of schedule.

Montante spent an estimated $6.5 million to construct it, while Bridgestone invested $7 million in equipment.

The car seat foam is to be exported to Canada for use in vehicle assembly plants there.

Production could begin by November, said Thomas A. Kucharski, president of Invest Buffalo Niagara. He said his agency, formerly known as Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, led the way in the site selection process, although he said officials never learned which other communities they were competing against.


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