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Seven months after Empire State Development closed its Toronto office in a cost-cutting move, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is hiring the same Canadian business consultant who represented the state to give the local business development and marketing group its own representative in Canada’s largest city.

The BNE has long focused on Canada as a fertile market for new business ventures for the Buffalo Niagara region, and adding its own representative in Toronto is expected to bolster the business group’s efforts to attract additional Canadian investment to the region.

The BNE said Tuesday it has hired Lee Meister, who had represented Empire State Development in Canada for 22 years, until the state closed its Toronto office in April in a controversial cost-cutting move. Local business officials said the closing of the Toronto office left the state without an in-person presence in a market that was a key source of new investment and business for the Buffalo Niagara region.

Meister’s hiring “will significantly boost our current efforts and amplify the emphasis we’ve placed on Canadian business development,” said Thomas Kucharski, the BNE’s president.

Two-thirds of the 12 project “wins” claimed by the BNE from July 2011 through June 2012 involved Canadian companies. Since the BNE was founded 10 years ago, Canada has accounted for 57 projects that the BNE claims as “wins,” funneling $511 million in investment and 1,361 new jobs to the region.

Meister, who is president of Austra Management in Markham, Ont., has helped generate 75 new business leads within the Buffalo Niagara region since 2005 and is responsible for nine projects that created 284 new jobs and brought nearly $60 million in new investment to the region, Kucharski said.

The BNE, which hired Meister using funds provided partly through a grant from National Grid, has spent nearly $1 million on its marketing campaigns and business development initiatives in Canada over the last six years. “Lee’s experience, connections and understanding of the Canadian business culture and what drives Canadian business investment decisions provides our region with a distinct competitive advantage,” Kucharski said.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com