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Chocolate-equipment maker Tomric gets $1.1 million loan from ECIDA affiliate

A Buffalo manufacturer of chocolate-making molds, packaging and machines is getting a $1.12 million low-interest loan through an Erie County Industrial Development Agency affiliate so it can expand its showroom and add production equipment.

The Buffalo and Erie County Regional Development Corp. will extend the 7.5-year, 4 percent loan to Tomric Systems, which is owned and led by Timothy Thill.

The proceeds will be used for a $1.23 million project that includes $736,000 for the expansion and purchase of warehouse production and instructional kitchen equipment, plus another $381,000 in working capital to buy raw materials and support its growth. Thill is investing $111,700, with the rest coming from the regional development corporation.

Incorporated in 2005, Tomric makes and sells thermoformed plastic molds and is the sole distributor of chocolate and confectionery equipment made by Selmi, a global provider of machinery. Customers range from artisan confectioners and "bean-to-bar" producers to large manufacturers, and include such chocolatiers as Fowler's Chocolates.

"It's pretty big," said Gerald Manhard, chief lending officer of the Buffalo and Erie County Regional Development Corp. "Consumers are moving to higher-quality authentic chocolate products, and that's really contributed to the growth of these specialty chocolatiers."

Tomric occupies 30,149 square feet at 85 River Rock Drive, in the former Buffalo Free Trade Zone Complex in Black Rock. It wants to renovate and increase its space to 45,030 square feet, setting up a new Chocolate Innovation Center to demonstrate its equipment. It has pledged to add six workers to its current staff of 25.

The money will pay for the build-out of a 7,000-square-foot display area, allowing the company to showcase its full line of products. Selmi makes tools for the entire range of chocolate producers, from hobbyists to professionals and commercial manufacturers.

It will also enable the company to begin offering equipment and processing training classes.

The company has already borrowed significantly from KeyBank, with $4.67 million in debt currently, but it has maxed out its ability to get more bank financing, so it turned to the development corporation, officials said. The ECIDA previously approved $65,625 in sales tax breaks in February for Tomric's landlord, Acquest Development, to support Tomric's project.

Tomric itself was part of Chocolate Delivery Systems, formerly Make N Mold, which was formed in 1962 and acquired by Thill in 1993. Until recently, it managed Make N Mold, Tomric, Choco Maker and International Business Development, but Thill dissolved the fourth one, spun off Tomric, and merged the others into a single company late last year.

"They're using every cent available to them to turn the business around," Manhard said. "They are maxed out. They are trying to realign this company and get it back on track."

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