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The Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is claiming 12 project "wins" during the last year, its second-weakest tally in the past decade but one that met the business development and marketing group's goals in a sputtering economy.
The number of wins was two less than last year and well below the group's pre-recession levels, when the region averaged about 20 during the three years leading up to the downturn. Still, BNE officials said they were pleased with the group's results, especially the $225.6 million in new investment those projects brought to the region.
The 12 projects are expected to bring 473 new jobs to the region, paying an average of $44,142, which is about 10 percent more than the slightly more than $40,000 a year that the average job in the Buffalo Niagara region pays, the business group said in its annual report. The job creation is about on par with the 465 new positions that the 14 project wins from last year were expected to create.
"It is an incredibly competitive marketplace right now, with a growing number of communities around the globe fighting for a shrinking number of expansion and investment opportunities," said Thomas A. Kucharski, the BNE's president and chief executive officer.
While the BNE's project wins are down from their pre-recession level, part of that stems from the group's more focused approach on targeted industries. Investment levels, which dropped sharply during the recession, last year were on par with the low-end of the group's range leading up to the downturn.
"We are entering into a new fiscal year with optimism," he said during a meeting Thursday to discuss the group's annual report to members. He said the BNE is pursuing a "robust" number of leads that could turn into future projects, although the group's goals for this year indicate that BNE officials are expecting a difficult year in securing new projects.
The BNE said its goal during the current fiscal year, which runs through next June, is to secure 10 project wins and attract $60 million in investment, which would be the second-lowest in both categories over the past decade. The group said it hopes to retain or attract 700 jobs, down from 810 last year.
Nearly all of the $225.6 million in investment comes from a single project - the $206 million yogurt plant that Muller Quaker Dairy plans to build in Batavia, which is expected to create 186 jobs, or more than a third of all the jobs generated by the BNE-backed projects.
The results also reflect the BNE's narrowed focus on a half dozen targeted industries and on Canada. Two-thirds of the projects involved Canadian companies.
Half of the projects involved advanced manufacturing, including a $3 million project by Toronto-based Fichman Furniture, which makes wooden radiator covers, to open a $3 million facility in Holland.
Two other projects were in the advanced business services sector, while two others, including the Muller Quaker Dairy project, involved agri-business. There were single projects in logistics and life sciences.
While the yogurt plant involved a huge investment, the other 11 projects were relatively small, with the second-biggest being the $7.4 million shift of high-temperature insulation products manufacturer Unifrax's headquarters and research factility to the Town of Tonawanda.
Only three of the BNE's "wins" involved more than $4 million in investment and half of the 12 projects carried investments of less than $1 million.
BNE Scordcard
Year Project wins Jobs created Investment
2011-12 12 473 $225.6 million
2010-11 14 465 $472 million
2009-10 9 578 $11.8 million
2008-09 19 810 $336.8 million
2007-08 20 889 $70.3 million

Source: Buffalo Niagara Enterprise
email: drobinson@buffnews.com