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Editorial: Tonawanda overcoming the loss of Huntley plant

The closing of the Huntley Generating Station, the biggest taxpayer in the Town of Tonawanda, was indeed a blow to the town. But the town’s aggressive pursuit of new businesses, expansions by longtime employers and some state assistance have softened the blow.

Huntley shut down just over a year ago, eliminating 79 jobs and nearly $6 million a year in property tax revenue. Still in doubt is the future of the 93-acre site on River Road. NRG has not made public any plans for the site, which one official said could take 20 to 30 years to redevelop.

Meanwhile, other businesses, both new and old, are stepping in. As News staff reporter Nancy A. Fischer wrote, employers added “at least” 200 jobs in the last year. The information was supplied by James D. Hartz, the town’s director of planning development, who defined what is occurring in interesting terms: “We’ve hit a sweet spot.”

Expanding businesses range in size from Pine Pharmaceuticals to manufacturing giants such as General Motors and Sumitomo Rubber USA. And there is candymaker First Source, relocating to an industrial park from another site in the town. Unifrax is undergoing an expansion that will add jobs.

In a move away from traditional heavy industry, the Riverview Solar Technology Park opened in 2013 off River Road near the City of Tonawanda line. The 200-acre facility has on-site solar generation for business and light industrial tenants.

A good deal of assistance is being provided by the state through the Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation program, a fund to aid communities that lose property taxes as the result of an electric generating plant closure.

The fund will provide millions of dollars to the town, Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District and county over the next seven years.

As The News story stated, 32,000 people worked in Tonawanda in 2014, about 10 percent of the manufacturing workforce in the Buffalo Niagara region. The town’s director of planning and development is encouraged by the increase in much sought-after younger workers, ages 24 to 35. The younger cohort, attracted by affordable homes, is needed to replace retiring workers, especially important in a town where much of the population trends 55-plus.

Some of the town’s business growth is visible to the tens of thousands of commuters on Interstate 290, at Colvin Woods and the North Youngmann Commerce Center. Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said that within a week of opening the North Youngmann Commerce Center, First Source wanted in. Town officials are now in discussions with an unnamed business developer interested in buying the remaining 15 to 20 acres in the 70-acre park.

There are other industrial sites with companies bringing jobs. And there is the hundreds of millions invested by GM’s Tonawanda Engine Plant and Sumitomo. These plants employ thousands.

One benefit of Huntley’s closing is cleaner air. The coal-fired power plant was one of the county’s biggest polluters. Coupled with environmental improvements at Tonawanda Coke, a notorious polluter, the town’s bright employment picture will also be cleaner.

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