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Unifrax gets more tax breaks months after missing job targets

Just two months after rescinding a portion of the tax breaks it previously granted to Unifrax Corp. for failing to meet its job targets, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency is providing additional tax incentives to the Town of Tonawanda ceramics company.

The economic development agency agreed Wednesday to provide Unifrax with a tax incentive package worth more than $2.5 million for a $36 million expansion project at its factory in the North Youngmann Commerce Park in the Town of Tonawanda.

The project, which involves building a 90,000-square-foot addition to its existing facility, would create 10 new jobs, paying an average of $57,500 a year, within two years at a factory that currently employs 27 workers, Unifrax officials said. The project would production lines to make polycrystalline fiber products, much of which would be ultimately sold into European markets.

The IDA approved the tax breaks despite Unifrax's job cuts last fall that caused it to miss its job targets at its sister factory on Fire Tower Drive, where employment dropped to 257 and fell below its pledge to employ 289 workers at that location as part of a previous incentive package. The IDA penalized Unifrax in January for missing its Fire Tower Drive employment pledge by clawing back a portion of its tax breaks in proportion to its shortfall in jobs.

"This application, however, is for a different product line and a different address," said Richard Lipsitz, the chairman of the IDA's policy committee, which reviews all projects coming before the agency's board of directors. "We looked at this and felt it was a different project."

The IDA also approved $1.25 million in tax breaks for a $16.9 million expansion projects by Steuben Foods in Elma. The food and beverage manufacturer plans to build an 82,500-square-foot addition that would increase the size of its Maple Road factory by about 20 percent.

The project will expand Steuben Foods' warehouse and allow for the installation of a robotic palletizing system that would use a series of six robots to do case-stacking work that now is done manually, said Glenn Wright, the company's senior vice president for engineering.

Steuben Foods officials said the project would create 27 new jobs at a facility that already has 555 full-time and 19 part-time employees. The new jobs would pay an average salary of $35,400 annually, the company said.

McKesson Corp. also received $1.33 million in sales tax breaks from the IDA for its $18.2 million project to open a warehouse and distribution operation in Cheektowaga as part of an expansion that will create 13 new jobs paying an average of $39,000 a year. The company currently has 62 employees.

McKesson said the tax breaks were needed because the company had an offer that included $2.2 million in incentives to locate the expansion in Jeffersonville, Ind. Without the tax breaks from the IDA, the project would not have made financial sense, company officials told the IDA.

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