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How Buffalo adds up

   Leading the Business Today section of today's Buffalo News, a story about how a national accounting firm has ranked us high on a list evaluating the business climate in not-so-giant cities.

- Hey, look us over, companies - David Robinson/The Buffalo NewsBuffaloskyline
   As midsized cities go, the Buffalo Niagara region is a pretty inexpensive place to do business, a study released Tuesday found.
   Thanks to low transportation expenses and competitive labor rates, the Buffalo Niagara region finished third among 12 U.S. metro areas in a ranking of cities with between 1 million and 2 million people by accounting firm KPMG. ...
   The study used the average cost of doing business in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas as its baseline cost figure.
   The study ranked Buffalo third among mid-sized cities, 3.5 percent cheaper overall than the four biggest cities, trailing Oklahoma City (4.4 percent cheaper) and Raleigh, N.C. (3.6 percent cheaper). Buffalo fared better than metro areas such as Milwaukee (2.2 percent cheaper), Las Vegas (0.2 percent cheaper), Nashville (3 percent cheaper) and Salt Lake City, Utah (2.6 percent cheaper).

   Because all news is local, different newspapers offer different takes:
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -  Atlanta 2d cheapest big city for business, report says
- The Tampa Tribune - Business costs less in Tampa, study states
- The Dallas Morning News -  Dallas-Fort Worth is 5th-least-expensive place to do business
- The Honolulu Star Bulletin - Honolulu costly for firms
- St. Louis Business Journal - St. Louis among most affordable cities to do business
- Nashville Business Journal - Nashville a cheap place to do business
- The Vancouver Sun - Vancouver business climate on an upswing 
   To get the global take, you go to:
- Reuters - Mexico most affordable place to do business
- The Dutch News - Holland more attractive to foreign firms
- The Globe and Mail - Canada ranks high in low business costs

   Meanwhile, you might be able to buy something from one of Buffalo's more successful businesses...
- $2 billion in shares of M&T to go on market - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Nearly one-fourth of M&T Bank Corp.’s outstanding shares — worth more than $2 billion — could hit the market sometime this year, as shareholder Allied Irish Banks PLC is being forced by the government of Ireland to unload its 7-year-old investment to raise capital.

   ... and from one of its largest business woes
- Statler’s construction equipment next up for auction - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   The court-appointed trustee in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, Morris Horwitz, is asking for a judge’s approval to auction off construction equipment and materials from the Statler. The property was mothballed in January, and plywood was affixed to its first-floor exterior windows and doors.
   U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Carl L. Bucki will hear Horwitz’s request on April 15. With the judge’s assent, Cash Realty & Auctions plans to conduct the auction May 1 at its facility on Main Street in Buffalo.
   Items on the list include a forklift, scissor lift, a compressor, pallets of tile, sections of scaffold, and tools.

   Finally, some music to add it all up by: 

   [Yes, that was Keith Moon doing the intro.]

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News




  

Sell! Sell! Sell!

   A lot of money changing hands out there today. You are getting some of it. Well, your government is.

- Government’s sale of Citi stock may reap profit of $7.5 billion - Associated Press/The Buffalo NewsCitigroup
   The Treasury Department said Monday that it will begin selling its stake in Citigroup at a potential profit of about $7.5 billion — not a bad haul for an 18-month investment.
   The move is a major step in the government’s effort to unravel investments that it made in banks under the $700 billion
Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, at the height of the financial crisis.
   Yet a year and a half after Congress passed the big bailout, other parts of it — particularly troubled automakers
General Motors and Chrysler and insurer American International Group — show no signs of being profitable.
   Despite the returns from
Citi and other banks, analysts and even the Treasury Department predict that the bailout will wind up costing taxpayers at least $100 billion....
  
Douglas Elliott, a fellow at Brookings Institution and former investment banker at J.P. Morgan, predicted that the government will lose about $100 billion on the overall bail-out program. That’s slightly less than Treasury’s own estimate of $117 billion. ...
   “It kept the recession from getting considerably worse,” Brookings’ Elliot said. “That’s worth whatever amount we end up losing.”
   Related:
- Fortune: TARP's last hurrah?
- The Wall Street Journal: Some TARP Beneficiaries Continue to Stumble
   Possibly related:
- Consumer confidence rebounds to 52.5 in March 
   Americans' confidence in the economy rebounded in March after a February plunge but remains relatively weak amid a tough job market, according to a private research group's monthly survey released Tuesday.
- California rebound boosts 20-city home price index
   Prices rose 0.3 percent from December to January on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday.
   Probably not related, but well worth reading:
- Study: Chocolate could reduce heart risk
    The Easter Bunny might lower your chances of having a heart problem. According to a new study, small doses of chocolate every day could decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 40 percent.

- UAW sets up benefits fund - AP/Buffalo News
   A trust fund set up by the United Auto Workers union is hoping to raise at least $1.3 billion to help pay retiree health care costs by selling rights to an 11 percent ownership stake in Ford Motor Co.

- Evans Bancorp mulls stock sale - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Evans Bancorp said that it may issue up to $60 million in stock, debt, or other securities for investors over the next three years in its first effort to raise capital in six years.

   Of course, some things just aren't for sale. Or are they?:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Making a living

   On Page One, another wrinkle in the long wait for Canal Side to get off the ground:
- For Canal Side, a further complication - Phil Fairbanks/The Buffalo News
   Community Benefit Agreements, legally binding contracts between developers and community organizations, may be new to Buffalo, but not to L.A., Pittsburgh, Seattle or Minneapolis.
   "We realized it was better to work with developers, rather than simply support or oppose a project," said James Elmendorf, policy director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.
   Here in Buffalo, the idea of a formal agreement spelling out benefits such as jobs, housing and wages has run into stiff opposition.
 ...
   "People should look in the mirror. This is Buffalo," said Jordan A. Levy, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. "I believe, if we are required to meet all the standards they are proposing, this project could die."...
   "We simply want this to be a quality development," said Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby, an organizer for the Coalition for Economic Justice. "We never intended this to be contentious."

   On the Business Today cover, another thing that might push wages up:
- Labor shortage predicted - Ruth Mantell/Marketwatch/Buffalo News
   With millions of unemployed people across the country struggling to find work, it may seem unbelievableUnemploymentline that there could be more jobs than workers to fill them in coming years, but a new report predicts exactly that.
   A worker shortage could develop within 10 years as baby boomers reach traditional retirement age and there are too few replacement workers, according to the report
published last week by the MetLife Foundation and San Francisco-based Civic Ventures, a think tank focusing on baby boomers, work and social purpose.
   Related:
Gas line projects face worker shortage - The Anchorage Daily News
   The Alaska labor force may be headed for a historic test: building a North Slope gas pipeline....
   "We do know there's a gap," said Gerry Andrews, who runs the
Alaska Department of Labor's gas-line job education and training initiative.
   Under the proposed timeline for gas line construction, many of the skilled workers needed for such a project -- welders, truck drivers and engineers, to name a few -- will retire before it begins, economists say.
   Meanwhile:
- Overqualified? Yes, but Happy to Have a Job - The New York Times
   And:
- Consumer spending up, sign of decent recovery - AP/Buffalo News 

     And an example of green building:
- M&T makes its 'green' debut in West Seneca - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   M&T Bank Corp. opened its first environmentally friendly branch last week in West Seneca, using what it calls a contemporary new design that will serve as a model for the bank's future branch construction and renovation.
   The new office at Southgate Plaza was built to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Music to read the classifieds by:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Credit where it is [slop, slurp, lick] due

   Loyal readers will remember this post, where I griped about how The New York Times managed to write a long front-page, and actually pretty interesting, story about Buffalo wings and only grudgingly mention Anchor Buffalo.

   This morning, somebody else did the same story: Chicken wings, once considered trash fit only for soup, are now so popular that they are getting really expensive.

   But, this time, the reporter [from Rochester] not only mentioned Buffalo, she did the story from here. Viz:

- Hot Wings' Pain Now Felt By Restaurants, Too - Rachel Ward/WXXI/National Public Radio
   Once a novel way to use a throwaway part — and sell more beer — the humble Buffalo chicken wing is now a whole industry. But the wing pieces are no longer cheap: Wholesale prices doubled in the past decade. And that's creating real problems for restaurants.
   The Anchor Bar in Buffalo N.Y., is the home of the Original Buffalo Chicken Wing. It's often imitated, but never duplicated, according to current owner Ivano Toscani, who inherited the chicken wing dynamo from the original owners, the Belissimos
.

No geographic rivalry here.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

American Axle CEO's stock sale

Richard Dauch's name was frequently in the news in early 2008, when the CEO of Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing was at odds with the United Auto Workers. The union conducted an 11-week strike against the auto parts supplier in Western New York and Michigan, and Dauch personified the company for many of the pickets during the labor strife.

Dauch is back in the news, this time for his announced intention to sell 2.5 million shares of his American Axle common stock starting no earlier than April 1, 2010 and continuing from time to time through March 31, 2011. The maximum number of shares available for sale under the trading plan represents about 25 percent of Dauch's common stock in American Axle. Crain's Detroit Business estimates the sale would bring Dauch $30 million by the time it is complete.

American Axle has a far smaller presence locally than it did a few years ago, following the demise of its factories in Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda. Only its operation in Cheektowaga remains.

The company said the planned sale by Dauch was part of a "personal financal planning strategy related to asset diversification and estate planning."


--Matt Glynn

Protesting nationally ...

   From the Business Today section of The Buffalo News:

- Big banks targeted in protest as labor calls for action on jobs - George Pyle/The Buffalo News
   With the clink of poker chips sounding in the background, two dozen labor activists gathered in the Gambling shadow of downtown Buffalo’s Bank of America branch to demand that the country’s big banks act — or be forced to act — to restore some of the 9 million jobs that were lost in the financial crisis that those banks caused. ...
   Part of the protest was the self-described theatrics of three labor supporters, dressed in business suits and labeled “Bank of America,” “Buffalo Niagara Partnership” and “Health Care Industry” playing poker. “Gambling with our lives,” the sign said. ...
   In similar “Make Wall Street Pay” events across the county, local chapters of the AFL-CIO are calling for the federal government to continue extensions of unemployment insurance, food assistance and health benefits, to hire more people to repair the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure,” provide more assistance to cash-starved state and local governments and use bank bailout money more directly to get credit flowing to small business for job creation.

   After I filed the story and moved on to my next assignment, this reply came from Bank of America's media people:

   Bank of America has a long tradition of investing and supporting our communities and we agree that the jobs situation is critically important. Bank of America actively supports job growth as evident with our more than 3000 open positions in the U.S. (approximately 350 of those open positions are in NY State) and more than 280,000 employees globally. ...
   
In 2009 the bank extended more than $758 billion in credit in both consumer and commercial sectors, more than any other bank. Also, the bank extended more than $16 billion in credit to small-and medium-business customers. For 2010 we have pledged to increase lending to these businesses by $5 billion.
-  
We’re working to strengthen the many communities we serve through community development banking. In 2009 we set a $1.5 trillion over ten years goal replacing previous goal of $750 billion. This initiative is focused on helping low- and moderate– income and minority families and neighborhoods in the areas of affordable housing, small-business and farm ownership, consumer loans and economic development....
 
   I would also encourage you to visit http://www.bankofamerica.com/qir/quarterly_impacted_report.pdf to read the bank’s quarterly lending report.
   We understand the passion that the AFL-CIO has for this issue, however we don’t necessarily agree with some of their statements or approaches.
Kind regards,
Kelly Sapp
Media Relations

   Fair enough.
   Then, there's this:
- Dresser-Rand lays off 39 workers

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

... incubating locally

   Also from Business Today:

- Developer seeks to create incubator - Brian Meyer/The Buffalo News
   Two vacant buildings in the downtown Buffalo business district would be turned into an incubator for small businesses and artisans under a proposal being reviewed by city planners.
   Developer J. Roger Trettel hopes to transform a structure at 523 Main St. and a building behind it at 500 Washington St. into a complex that would house up to 14 small businesses. A future phase of the project would involve building loft apartments or office space on upper floors.
   Trettel expects numerous enterprises to lease space in the Cornucopia Storefronts, including a coffee house, a confectionary shop and a hair-styling salon. He is also talking with several artisans....
   The project has won backing from Buffalo Place, the entity that markets and manages the downtown business district. ...
   Trettel said the project will be largely financed with private funds. But it will receive some assistance from the New York Main Street program, a state initiative that aims to spur downtown revitalization by providing money for building renovations and enhancing streetscapes....
    Buffalo’s Preservation Board recently approved the projects after developers gave assurances that the historic character of the structures will be enhanced.

   Another coffee shop downtown?
   Buffalo may not be The City That Never Sleeps. But it's not for a lack of caffeine.
   No protests here. I'll take mine with one cream, no sugar.



View Larger Map

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

The job of creating jobs

   News from the economic front:

- Senate OKs jobs bill for Obama's signature - AP/The Buffalo News
   Companies that hire unemployed workers will get a temporary payroll tax holiday under a bill that easily won congressional approval Wednesday in what Democrats hope is just the first of several election-year Jobless measures aimed at boosting hiring.
    The 68-29 bipartisan vote in the Senate sent the legislation to the White House, where President Barack Obama was expected to sign it into law Thursday. Eleven Republicans voted for the legislation, an impressive tally considering the politically charged atmosphere on Capitol Hill.
   It was the first of several jobs bills promised by Democrats, though there's plenty of skepticism that the measure will do much to actually create jobs. Optimistic estimates predict the tax break could generate perhaps 250,000 jobs through the end of the year, but that would be just a tiny fraction of the 8.4 million jobs lost since the start of the recession.

- First-time jobless claims drop slightly - AP/The Buffalo News
   The number of newly laid-off workers requesting jobless benefits fell slightly last week for the third straight time. But initial claims remain above levels that would signal net job gains.
   New claims for unemployment insurance fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That nearly matched analysts' estimates of 455,000, according to Thomson Reuters.

   Also:
- Consumer prices were unchanged in February - AP/The Buffalo News
   Consumer prices were flat last month, as the weak economy limits the ability of companies to charge more for goods and services.
   The Labor Department's report Thursday indicates there is little sign of inflation, which enables the Federal Reserve to keep the short-term interest rate it controls at a record low in an effort to revive the economy.
 
- Leading indicators rise more slowly in February - AP/The Buffalo News
   A private research group says its gauge of future economic activity rose 0.1 percent in February, suggesting slow economic growth this summer.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Whither downtown Buffalo?

   The cover of the Business Today section has much to say, and little to conclude, about the future of Downtown Buffalo:

- Reopening Main Street to traffic stalls - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Chalk up another victim of the state's budget problems: the effort to restore cars to Main Street in Mainstreet downtown Buffalo.
   The $8 million plan to restore through traffic to the
600 block of Main Street -- including the Theater District -- has hit a snag, as the money needed to continue the preparatory work is being held up by Albany's budgetary problems.
   Work on the block was slated to begin this in the fall but might now be delayed until next the spring, as the design work hasn't even started. It can't proceed without the federal funds that are being funneled to Buffalo through Albany,
Buffalo Place Planning Manager Debra L. Chernoff told the nonprofit group's directors at the organization's monthly board meeting Wednesday.

- Is Phillips Lytle going for a new home? -  Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Law firm Phillips Lytle LP could become the lead tenant in a revamped and rehabilitated Donovan Building when its current lease in the One HSBC Center tower expires in three years. ...Donovan
   Formally known as the Gen. William J. Donovan State Office Building, the 48-year-old downtown edifice has been vacant since early 2007, when the last state offices and employees moved out ahead of a planned demolition.
   At the time, the state intended to raze the building, originally to make way for a new transportation center but later as part of the Canal Side redevelopment project that includes the Bass Pro store. However, plans have since changed, and now Benderson — which is overseeing the Canal Side development for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. — plans to keep the frame, gut the interior and redevelop the building
.

   Good. I'm glad to hear they aren't going to tear down a building that's younger than I am.

   Meanwhile, on the City & Region cover, and also key to downtown redevelopment:
- Tax credit law change hailed as boost for projects downtown - Phil Fairbanks/The Buffalo News
   Two major downtown projects — the Hotel Lafayette and the former AM&A’s building — may be back on track thanks to proposed changes in New York State’s historic tax credit program. ...
   The changes, included in a bill Gov. David A. Paterson will send to the State Legislature today, reopens a state law that developers once hailed as a boon to historic rehabilitation projects but now realize, a year later, is flawed.
   The reforms, many of them pushed by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, solve the biggest problem with the law — its prohibition on selling tax credits to banks and insurance companies.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News  

Giving the people what they want

   A couple of dots to connect on from Wednesday's Business Today section:

- Council seeks guarantees on benefits of Canal Side - Brian Meyer/The Buffalo News
   The Common Council wants guarantees that the $294.8 million Canal Side project will produce specific Canalsidemockup community benefits before the city transfers more land for the development.
   Tuesday's unanimous vote calling for such assurances occurred shortly after advocacy groups held a news conference outside City Hall to push for a
Community Benefits Agreement. Supporters justified their stand by noting that more than half of the project is being financed with public funds.
  
[With audio] [Related blog]

- Wegmans drops Clarence plans, will enlarge Amherst store - Samantha Maziarz Christmann/The Buffalo News
   Wegmans is scrapping a controversial plan to relocate a Transit Road store from Amherst to Clarence and instead will expand at its current location.
   Though Wegmans has said its current location lacked room for expansion and was limited by its configuration and size, the company “has been approached” by plaza owner Benderson Development Co. with a workable plan to enlarge the 87,000-square-foot store at 8270 Transit, said spokeswoman Ann McCarthy.

   The suburban folks got what they wanted. The urban folks, well, that, as they say on TV, remains to be seen.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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