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Unifrax could lose tax breaks for breaking job promises

Unifrax Corp. is in danger of losing some of its tax breaks after recent job cuts put its local employment below the levels it promised to maintain when it won tax breaks from local development officials.

Unifrax announced in October that it was cutting its work force by about 10 percent - or about 45 people - because of "short-term shifts" in global demand for its products.

That left the Town of Tonawanda company with 257 employees at its facility in the Fire Tower Industrial Park - 32 workers below the 289 jobs that Unifrax promised to have at the site when it received tax breaks through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

IDA officials now are discussing how to respond to the company's broken employment promise, which puts it in the crosshairs of the agency's policy to claw back tax breaks from businesses that don't meet their employment goals.

One option under consideration would suspend the company's property tax breaks until its employment reaches the 289-worker target.

Another option under discussion would reduce Unifrax's property tax incentives by 11 percent - the same percentage of its employment shortfall.

Agency officials also have discussed allowing Unifrax to count employment at all of its local facilities toward its job commitments, but John Cappellino, the IDA's executive director, said that still would leave the company below its overall job target. One of Unifrax's other sites, at 95 Pirson Parkway in the Town of Tonawanda, also is currently receiving property tax breaks through the IDA, so even if the company's total local employment of 323 people was considered, it still would fall short of the company's overall job promises.

The agency's policy committee, which has been discussing the Unifrax shortfall, has not yet recommended that the agency take any action. Unifrax officials have told the IDA that they believe the company's job count will rebound in 2019 and that employment at the Fire Tower and Pirson sites will exceed its promised levels by September of next year.

Unifrax officials are expected to discuss the shortfall further with the agency's policy committee in January.

Unifrax makes ceramic fiber insulation products used in high-temperature industrial, automotive and fire protection applications. The company has invested $34 million into its new building on Pirson Parkway, and last year completed a $33 million investment in its existing Fire Tower Drive location.

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