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62 auto insurers here have perfect service record, real estate listings posted and the high monetary cost of DWI

From Business Today:


Several local auto insurance companies had perfect records in 2009 and 2010 when it came to customer complaints, according to data from the Annual Ranking of Autombile Insurance Complaints.

Of the state's 179 insurers, 62 of them had zero consumer complaints upheld against them by state regulators. The largest carrier with a perfect record was Erie Insurance Co. The company had 18 complaints against it, 15 of them were withdrawn or rejected while three of them had "questions of fact." Erie had an average of $64.1 million in premiums during the same period.


Check out our roundup of real estate transactions in Erie County and Niagara County for the week ending Sept. 2. There were a total of 300 sales in Erie County, 75 in Niagara County.

Erie County's highest-priced property went for $6.05 million, while Niagara's priciest was $2.12 million. The median property price in Erie County was $118,500, while Niagara's was $95,500. Transactions are compiled from each county's clerk's office.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:

Don't feel like splurging on a cab home after happy hour? Deciding to drive with a buzz could end up costing you much, much more. Reporter Stephen T. Watson spells out the costs of driving under the influence.

 It doesn't feel like October out there, does it?


Buffalo Place concerts a success, UAW hears contract details and Travers Collins expands

From Business Today:


Buffalo Place's summer concert series at the Buffalo waterfront brought in $1.5 million.

That's up 35 percent over what was expected and $405,101 more than its own projections. The success was attributed to its move from Lafayette Square to the Central Wharf and the summer's great weather, as compared to last year's rainy season.


The United Auto Workers Local 774 will meet Monday about an upcoming contract vote. Members will hear the details of a tentative contract the UAW reached with General Motors before they are scheduled to vote on it next week.

GM's Tonawanda plant, which employs 800 workers, is getting a boost from the addition of two new engine lines. The four-year pact would add or keep 6,400 jobs in the U.S. and offer buyouts to longtime workers. Most workers won't get annual pay raises, but will get at least $12,500 in bonuses, profit sharing and other payments over the life of the contract.


 Travers Collins has opened a new office in Rochester. The advertising and public relations firm has parterned with Rochester-based PR veteran Mike McDougall to open McDougall Travers Collins. Collins said he had been wanting to break into the Rochester market for 10 years. He hopes McDougall's local and global contacts will bring new clients from Rochester and around the world.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Today is the first day of fall. Let's celebrate with the Kinks:


Car sales are up, Wilmers scolds bank regulators, Travers Collins & Co. splits, and ECIDA doles out tax breaks

From Business Today:


Car sales are up in the region. Local new car sales rose 10 percent last month over August 2010. In fact, August saw the region's second-best totals of the year with sales of 4,919 for the month. Ford had the leading sales, selling 1,106 vehicles. That's up 22 percent from a year ago. Toyota's sales came in second, but were down 32 percent from last year. In third place was Nissan, with a 52 percent increase, according to data from the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association.


 M&T Bank chairman and CEO Robert Wilmers spoke at a regulatory symposium sponsored by American Banker Monday. In his opinion, the financial reform law goes too far in some ways but not far enough in others. Worse, it will do nothing to prevent a future financial crisis.

Wilmers said the regulations fail to reform credit-rating agencies, government mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and risky bank activity.


 Travers Collins & Co. lost its entire investor relations team, three additional staffers and a slew of clients over the weekend when Lynn Casteel and Jeff Schoenborn left the advertising agency abruptly to set up shop on Wehrle Drive in Amherst. Casteel and Schoenborn said they decided to start their own competing investor relations firm after being "consistently rebuffed" by Travers Collins' owners when it came to business recommendations, improvement suggestions and offers to buy into the firm's ownership.

Owner William Collins criticized the way they handled the split in a letter to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. He said they never raised concerns, moved out secretly and quietly notified clients in advance. The team owed its success to Travers Collins, he said, which gave three of the individuals their first job and gave them all the tools to succeed. There were no non-compete clauses binding, so Travers Collins has no recourse to take in regards to the lost clients, but the owners said they would rebuild the firm's investor relations business.


A study of border crossings has recommendations for improving things at our Canadian border. The study by the Binational Economic and Tourism Alliance recommends that getting better information out about border crossing status along with adding workers during the bridges' busiest times would ease congestion. Better signage to navigate the borders would help, too, as would better planning around special events, the report said.


An abandoned Pizza Hut in South Buffalo will become a Dollar General store, with help from a nearly $49,000 tax break from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. It made an exception to its "no retail" policy because the property has sat vacant for so long.

The IDA also approved $583,000 in breaks for Gemcor II, a West Seneca automatic fastening equipment maker, to build a $3.1 million addition. Sleep Inn Buffalo Airport in Cheektowaga got $38,000 in sales tax breaks for a $550,000 renovation.


Perry's Ice Cream got an $800,000 low-interest loan from the Buffalo and Erie County Regional Development Council. Perry's is spending $6.4 million to increase its distribution and to begin distrubting snacks by other makers, including Little Debbie.



Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

This couple didn't know their camera was on, and couldn't figure out why they couldn't get it to record:


Ford laying off 150, Buffalo Games is looking for product testers, Profits soar at Taylor Devices and local lawyer named NLRB chairman

From Business Today:


About 150 workers at the Ford Stamping Plant in Hamburg are facing layoffs. The furloughs will take effect Sept. 12. Some of the laid off employees are making arrangements to transfer to Ford plants in Louisville, Ky. and Chicago, while others remain here, hoping to be called back to their jobs.

The Route 5 facility made stamped metal parts for an assembly plant near St. Thomas, Ont. That plant is scheduled to close in two weeks, and the reduced workload calls for fewer employees. About 500 salaried workers will be left at the Hamburg plant.


Buffalo Games is looking for game testers. The Buffalo-based maker of puzzles and party games is launching an official Play Laboratory at its James E. Casey Drive headquarters. The purpose is to test new game concepts throughout their development and before they go to market. Game testers will be observed by designers--sometimes playing with them--and answer questions. They'll be provided pizza, drinks and snacks while they play and be given some free games to keep. To sign up, click here.


Fourth-quarter profits at Taylor Devices were up by 64 percent. The North Tonawanda company makes shock absorbers, which are in big demand to protect buildings and bridges from earthquake and high wind damage. The company's profits jumped to more than $722,000, or 23 cents per share, from $439,496, or 13 cents per share, a year ago.


A local lawyer has been named chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. Mark Gaston Pearce has served on the NLRB for the past year, but was made chairman by President Obama over the weekend. Pearce was a founding partner of the Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen and Giroux firm in Buffalo, where he worked from 1979 to 1994.



Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?


New car sales are down, Regional council meets, SEIU 1199 ratifies contract

From Business Today:


New car sales were down in the Buffalo Niagara region last month, but up for the year overall. Car sales declined 7 percent in July from 2010.  Local sales numbers were down to 4,462 from 4,797 a year ago, according to numbers reported by the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association. Overall, new car sales were up 3.4 percent this year from January through July, compared to the same period a year ago.


The public is getting its turn to have a say in local economic development. The Western New York Regional Economic Council is inviting public comment as it comes up with an economic plan for the region in an attempt to secure funds for local improvement.

Members of the five Western New York counties will be able to attend open forums being held next month and can make comments on the council's Web site.

The local council, comprised of 30 local members, met Tuesday at the University at Buffalo's north campus. 


Unionized workers at Gowanda Rehabilitation Nursing Center ratified a three-year contract Monday. The Service Employees International Union Local 1199, representing 125 employees at the nursing home, negotiated a contract calling for a 7 percent raise by June 2013 and increased pension contributions. It also preserves longevity bonuses.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Ace Frehley from KISS is back in the New York groove, playing for free tonight at the Hamburg fair:


GM's Lockport plant has open house, Prime 490 is up for sale, Sovran cuts interest costs and Northwest will rebuy stock

From Business Today:


General Motors Components Holding LLC in Lockport opened its doors to visitors Thursday, in an attempt to boost the enthusiasm of potential buyers and the community as well as give thanks for a taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009. Nearly 1,500 people showed up for a peek inside the building.

The plant started as Harrison Radiator Corp. in 1910 before being bought by GM in 1918. That plant became Delphi, a division that was spun off into a separate company in 1995. In 2009 it returned to GM as General Motors Components Holding.


Prime 490, a well-known Rhode Island Ave. steakhouse, is up for sale. The property, near the Essex Street Pub and the Left Bank, is listed with Hunt Commercial Real Estate for $449,000.

Prime 490 is known for its extensive wine list and has banquet rooms and an outdoor covered patio. Owners, including Cozumel founder Christian DiFiglia, are selling in order to concentrate on other ventures.


Sovran Self Storage will cut its interest costs by $3.2 million a year starting in 2012, thanks to $500 million in financing it arranged through a combination of unsecured notes and bank borrowings.

The company operates more than 400 Uncle Bob's Self Storage facilities in 25 states.


Northwest Bancshares' board of directors authorized the repurchase of 5 percent of the company's stock, amounting to about 5.15 million shares. The company has almost completed the purchase of another 11 million shares, or 10 percent of the outstanding stock. (Buffalo native John Meegan is on the board of Northwest Bancshares.)



Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Looks like it's going to be another great day:


The Buffalo economy: Taking advantage of fixer-uppers

   In Business Today the last day or so, news about how Buffalo, forlorn center of recession before recession was everywhere, is now a center of making lemonade out of lemons:

M&T sees good fit in takeover - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
  Don’t think of M&T Bank Corp.’s $351 million deal to buy Wilmington Trust as a takeover.
  Think of it as a take-under. ...
   With a painfully high 12 percent of its loans classified as non-performing, it isn’t the type of bank Mtlogo you’d normally expect M&T’s conservative bankers to buy. ...
   The reason is twofold: For starters, it gives M&T a leading position in Delaware, ranking first in deposits and near the top in lending, which goes nicely with its No. 2 share in neighboring Maryland. There’s no overlap in the two banks’ branch networks. ...
   But this deal is all about the fees.
   M&T coveted Wilmington Trust’s wealth management and trust business, which generates a stream of fee income strong enough to make M&T willing to take on its loan problems. Wilmington Trust’s wealth management business is almost three times the size of M&T’s similar unit and has the added advantage of being based in Delaware, where its clients can take advantage of favorable trust laws to protect their assets. ...
M&T has become a legend in small-business lending - Eric Ruth/Wilmington News Journal
   ... M&T is something of a legend within the banking industry for its aggressiveness in the small-business lending market, raising the potential for some easing of the state's still-tight credit market -- and some tough new competition for local rivals.
Wilmington to Test M&T's Skills - Barron's
Wilmington Trust's $3.84 Take Under Catches ... Sellsiders With Pants Down - Tyler Durden/ZeroHedge
- Wilmington Trust Sued by Shareholder Claiming M&T Takeover Price Too Low - Bloomberg

Franchised firms upbeat on growth - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo Niagara's economy may not be booming, but a number of franchised companies see opportunities to grow here and are searching for suitable franchisees to open more locations. ...
   Among the expanding companies is AAMCO, which plans to open four additional auto service centers in the area in the next three to five years. Snap Fitness wants to grow from its six area locations to about 20. Pump It Up, which hosts children's parties and other events, wants to open its first area location, and Cartridge World plans to add several more stores.
   Their expansion plans might seem to run counter to Buffalo's reputation as a steady, slow-growth market. But looking in from the outside, they say the region's demographics suit them and they see a chance to capitalize on trends in their respective industries. ...
   J. Randy Steiner bought his first AAMCO franchise in 1999. Today he has four ...
   Steiner said a "middle market" like Buffalo makes sense for AAMCO to target for expansion. Residents have enough money to maintain their vehicles, he said, but aren't so affluent that they are constantly replacing them. "People around here aren't foolish with their cars." ...

   That is to say, we don't do this. [Good luck tonight, Conan]


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Buying more cars. Paying more for power.

   In Business Today:

Customers return to auto showrooms - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   U.S. auto sales rose in October as buyers grew slightly more confident in the economy and new models drew them into dealerships.
   Duane Paddock of Paddock Chevrolet in Kenmore said his October sales were robust, led by the Cruze, Autoline Equinox, Silverado and Malibu. ...
   General Motors, which is preparing for an initial stock offering expected later this month, saw sales rise 3.5 percent in October. [GM's press release stresses a 13 percent increase in sales for its four remaining brands -- Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac -- which it can do when it ignores brands that have either been sold or closed -- Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab.]
   Ford Motor Co.'s sales rose 19.2 percent, led by big increases in trucks and small cars. Sales of the redesigned Edge crossover were up 24 percent, while Ford Escape sales rose 17 percent. Ford says sales of the F-Series pickup rose 24 percent, thanks in part to a monthlong truck promotion. ...
   Chrysler Group LLC's sales were up 37 percent from last October, partly on the strength of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, which saw sales more than triple. Ram pickup sales rose 41 percent.
   New products also gave a boost to Honda Motor Co., whose sales climbed 16 percent. October was the first full month on the market for the Odyssey minivan, which saw October sales jump 52 percent. Wagons were also hot at Honda, where CR-V sales climbed 19 percent.
   Automakers are expecting to sell around 11.5 million vehicles this year, up from a 30-year low of 10.4 million in 2009.
   Consumer confidence rose slightly in October, according to a report released last week by the Conference Board. That, and a rebounding stock market, may have spurred buyers to invest in a new vehicle. Analysts are expecting last month to be the best October for the industry since 2007. ...
   * Hyundai said its October sales jumped 38 percent as sales of the new Sonata midsize sedan more than doubled.
   * Subaru sales rose 25 percent for the month on strong sales of the Outback and Forester wagons.
   * Volkswagen sales rose 18 percent with a boost from sales of the new Jetta. Jetta sales were up 32 percent over last October.
    More from The Detroit NewsThe Detroit Free Press, The Washington PostUSA Today and
- General Motors Can Fly Again for Stock Sale - The New York Times
   The automaker has met federal guidelines to use chartered aircraft as early as Thursday to ferry managers on a “road show” promoting G.M.’s public stock offering, according to government and company officials who declined to be identified. ...
   The use of private jets by the Detroit automakers to fly to Washington for Congressional hearings on an auto bailout in November 2008 was harshly criticized by lawmakers, who saw the jets as symbolizing the industry’s need to cut unnecessary costs.
   G.M. and other executives drove to the next hearing.

 - National Grid finds support for rate hike - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   The Buffalo Niagara region’s business groups lined up Wednesday to voice their support for the infrastructure improvements that are part of the $361 million rate increase that National Grid is seeking.
   National Grid, which has spent more than $1.4 billion since 2002 to upgrade its upstate transmission and distribution network is proposing to spend $1.8 billion on transmission and infrastructure improvements from 2011 to 2013. ...

   Time to make the Thunderbirds:


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Other returns: Manufacturers up. Housing down.

   It's the Day After Election Day, so in Business Today we need to count winners and losers, just like everyone else.

September home sales hit new low - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Home sales plunged again in September to their lowest levels for the month in at least a decade, as the housing market continues to stumble along after the federal tax credits expired.
   For September, 717 homes changed hands, down by 24 percent from 944 a year ago, according to new statistics released by the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.
   However, that was up by 12.2 percent from a dismal August performance, when only 639 homes closed. So far this year, sales are down by 13 percent, to 6,443.
   “It’s a reflection of all the people who bought in the first half with the tax credit,” said Philip L. Aquila Jr., president of Western New York Real Estate Information Services, which runs the multiple listing service for the Association of Realtors. “We anticipated it being slow, and it is slow. It’s catching up to us.”
- Nation’s rate of homeownership still at lowest level in a decade - AP/Buffalo News
- Freddie Mac posts $4.1B loss for Q3 - AP/Buffalo News
- New home sales are up...barely - Christian Science Monitor
   New home sales numbers are so weak that it looks like the Homebuyer Tax Credit actually hurt more than it helped. [Census press release here]

Region’s manufacturing jumps - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   ... A report by a local purchasing managers group released Tuesday found that activity at the region’s Factory factories jumped sharply in October after declining for the first time in 11 months during September.
   A sharp jump in production and a strong flow of new orders combined with growing inventories to offset continued weakness in employment and soaring commodity prices.
   “The index paints a somewhat uncertain, although maybe slightly optimistic, outlook,” said Mikhail I. Melnik, a Niagara University economist.
   “We will continue to expand during the course of 2010, although at a decreasing rate,” Melnik said. “2011, however, is shaping up to be a complex year. We are likely to see continued slowing growth in the first half of the year, followed by a rise in inflation in the second half of the year.”

Mod-Pac’s profits hold steady - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   Mod-Pac Corp.’s third-quarter profits held steady, even though lower sales of the Buffalo printing company’s folding cartons led to a nearly 2 percent dip in revenues. 

 - Stalemate in Congress might not be bad for economy - AP/Buffalo News
   On its own, the economy is showing slow but steady improvement. Consumers and businesses are spending a bit more. Some companies are hiring. And most economists expect those gains to continue.
   For both Democrats and Republicans, the inability to do much for the next two years may not be such a bad policy for the economy. ...
   "If the economy sticks to the script, (gridlock) is not a major problem," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.
   The danger, Zandi says, is if the economy should take a turn for the worse.
   "If the economy doesn't cooperate and starts to backtrack, then this will become a problem," he says. "Policymakers will not be able to respond, and they'll need to."

   Just hang on to the house:


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

The new Ford. The same old M&T. Twofer T-shirts.

   From a couple of days of Business Today: Find a place for the local plant within the new Ford Motors; being happy that M&T Bank got left at the altar; and catching up with a guy who sells you T-shirts made for two.

The transformation of Ford - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   Ford Motor Co.'s stamping plant in Hamburg faces a significant challenge about a year from now, when an assembly plant it supplies in Ontario is shut down. ...
  James Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North American manufacturing, said securing replacement work is a task that lies ahead for the Hamburg plant to overcome. He declined to discuss what new products might be assigned to the plant. ...
   Tetreault will offer insights into Ford's corporate transformation plan, known as "One Ford," when he is one of two keynote speakers at World Trade Celebration on Oct. 20. The other speaker is Jon Luther of Dunkin' Brands.

Good news! M&T will stay single - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   M&T Bank Corp. is staying single, and that’s the best thing that could possibly happen for the Buffalo Niagara region.
   Allied Irish Bank, M&T’s biggest shareholder, said last week that it will hold a stock offering by Nov. 15 to sell its 22.4 percent stake in M&T, mainly to big, institutional investors.
   That result, while painful to M&T’s shareholders in the short term—the bank’s stock has fallen 15 percent since Sept. 24—is probably the best thing that could have happened for the region.
   It keeps M&T in Buffalo, under the control of a locally based management that has long shown its commitment to the region. And it sprinkles Allied Irish’s shares among a number of investors, rather than leaving such a large block of stock concentrated in the hands of a single owner.
   In other words, we all can breathe easier today.
   “Everybody in the region should,” said Andrew J. Rudnick, the president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “It’s exactly what you want.” ...
   We’ve already been down that path with companies like Pratt&Lambert and Varity, which were based here until new owners from out of town took over and shut down all local operations.

New business suits him to a 'T' - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo entrepreneur Dan Gigante is trading in his computer for T-shirts.
   Gigante, one of the co-founders of Web services provider Clevermethod, is selling his stake in the Twopeopletshirt Elma firm to start a T-shirt company with a charitable twist.
   Gigante's new venture, called You and Who, is an online business that sells T-shirts designed either by the company or local artists. But here's the twist: For every T-shirt that You and Who sells, it promises to donate a second shirt to someone in need through homeless shelters and other community organizations across the country. ...
   To drum up artists in the Buffalo Niagara region, the company is holding a "Call for Artists" event from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Sugar City, 19 Wadsworth St. The theme for the initial batch of artist-designed shirts is "New Beginning." SoCorp Inc., a Buffalo screen printing business, will produce the T-shirts. 

   So, it's a T-shirt built for two. Somebody needs to get cracking on a new version of this:


 -- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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