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Embrace our Canadian visitors.

From Business Today:


 Retailers in Western New York know what a boon Canadian shoppers are to their bottom line, but businesses in other industries apparently don't, according to new market research. Visiting Canadians spent $933 million here last year, but just 13 percent of it was spent on sightseeing and recreation. That's an untapped audience with huge potential and spending clout. Executives from Visit Buffalo Niagara and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. shared ideas for how local businesses could better take advantage of the opportunity at two seminars Monday.


A public authority oversight agency has determined that, according to current laws, a company that eliminated workers here committed no job piracy. After taking 15 years of tax breaks from the ECIDA, VWR Education eliminated 41 jobs at its warehouse in the Town of Tonawanda. At the same time, it added seven jobs at its facility near Rochester, and received tax breaks from the Monroe County IDA for doing so. Politicians and activists filed a complaint, saying the company was shifting jobs around New York State at taxpayer expense, but the New York State Authorities Budget Office disagreed, according to a report resulting from its investigation.


Profits were up during the first quarter at a Buffalo-based information technology staffing and services company. Computer Task Group saw an 18.8 percent increase in profits. It reported net income of $3.36 million, or 20 cents per share, up from 42.83 million, or 17 cents per share, compared to the same period a year ago. The increase is attributed to higher revenues, especially from electronic medical records and other health care technology solutions.


After being ordered by state regulators to check their insurance records against federal death data, life insurance companies found that hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance policy claims have gone unpaid. More than 30,000 policies and $262.2 million in benefits went unpaid because insurers failed to check whether their policyholders had died. In New York State, 7,525 policyholders have received $95.9 million in unpaid benefits. The results came after an investigation was launched by the state Department of Financial Services. To search for a lost policy, click here.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Looks like another lovely spring day:


Watching medical bills

From Business Today:


The Department of Financial Services released a report Wednesday saying consumers are at risk for receiving unexpected medical bills they can't afford. The state's insurance regulators are looking into unexpected, out-of-network medical costs and whether some insurance companies bill too much or reimburse at too-low rates.


An investors' group is recommending National Fuel Gas shareholders to vote against a proposed executive pay package. The Amherst-based energy company's CEO David F. Smith made $7 million last year, and would get $38,000 less this year, according to the proposal. But Institutional Shareholder Services advised that Smith's paycheck is out of whack when compared to National Fuel's stock performance and the pay received by other natural gas utility executives. 


As both houses prepare to pass 2012 budget proposals, Senate Republicans are passing a proposed budget of their own. Their plan includes a 20 percent tax cut for 200,000 small businesses in New York. The tax breaks would cost $65 million and bring the state's tax rate from 6.85 percent to 5.5 percent.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 What were you doing when you were 13?


State pension reform approaching

From Business Today:


The local business community is getting behind a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo's Tier VI pension reform aims to control state employee pension costs and save $123 billion over 30 years by limiting benefits for new hires. Andrew J. Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and Heather C. Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, came out in support of the plan Thursday, saying the reform is a good step toward getting the state into better financial shape and making the region more friendly to businesses. But not everyone is happy about it.


Profits slipped at Lake Shore Bancorp during the fourth quarter. The Dunkirk-based parent company of Lake Shore Savings Bank saw profits dip 34 percent. The decline is attributed to a $500,000 write-down for an investment the bank made in an unnamed payment processing startup. Profits were $587,000, or 10 cents per share, down from $895,000, or 16 cents per share,  during the same period last year.


Five Star Bank will eliminate its top executive position in retail banking, a position that paid $426,757 last year. The Warsaw-based Financial Institutions subsidiary attributed the move to improving the company's efficiencies. The duties filled by the former executive vice president of the bank and regional president for the bank's Western Region,John J. Witkowski, will now be doled out to other executives. Witkowski is a former NFL quarterback.



Wegmans has issued a recall of hard-cooked eggs and prepared foods made with them. Eggs sourced at Minnesota-based Michael Foods were found to contain the bacteria that causes listeriosis, which can result in illness and death.

The eggs were sold hard-cooked, pickled and Kosher and also used to make prepared foods. Fresh eggs are not affected.

No illnesses have been reported associated with the recall.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 Happy Friday!


Business leaders need to lead

From Business Today:


The Buffalo News' 20th annual Prospectus issue was delivered Sunday. The special, expanded business magazine looks at what 2012 has in store for Western New York companies. What does the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise have in mind for $1 billion in promised state money? Wondering what decor trends will be hot for interior designers and home stores? Want to check in on Niagara Falls' progress as it makes over downtown? Want to see First Niagara CEO John Koelmel deliver a fantastic keynote speech at the Prospectus premiere dinner? It's all here.


The Elmwood Village will get a new fitness center. Best Fitness is set to open at 2001 Elmwood Avenue, in the site of the former Buffalo Wild Wings. The 24-hour gym plans to open its doors by late spring or early summer. It's the second Best Fitness location in Western New York, owned by a private New Hampshire company that has a total of 10 gym sites in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.


If you don't think the assessment on your home is fair, you have options.

Experts suggest making sure your municipality has the correct information about your home, research what comparable homes in your neighborhood have sold for and make sure you file your grievance by your town's deadline.

 From MoneySmart:

Thieves never stop thinking up new ways to steal and scam. MoneySmart outlines what the FBI and the Better Business Bureau call the latest and most prevalent scams and tells you how to identify them, avoid them and keep yourself protected.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Buffalo Tungsten expands, 2 local insurance companies rank nationally, Profits soar at Astronics, Olive Tree gets tax breaks and former Pitt Pitri store gets tenant

From Business Today:

Buffalo Tungsten, a Depew manufacturing company which makes tungsten and tungsten carbide powders, is looking to add jobs and invest money. The company said it will add up to 45 jobs as it invests $19 million into a renovation of its facility on Main Street. The company will hire plant workers, technicians and engineers.


Two local companies made the top 50 ranking for insurance brokers in a list compiled by Business Insurance Magazine. First Niagara Risk Management ranked as the 47th largest insurance company in the nation. Buffalo-based Lawley Service Group rose seven spots from last year to number 50.


Strong demand for its cabin electronics and aircraft lighting equipment fueled an 87
percent surge
in Astronics Corp.'s second-quarter profits, the East Aurora-based company said Tuesday. Astronics earned $4.5 million, or 39 cents per share, up from $2.4 million, or 22 cents per share, a year ago. The company's sales grew to $55.5 million from $47.1 million.


The Olive Tree Family Restaurant will get tax breaks from the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency. The restaurant is investing $900,000 into expanding its waiting area and dining room and will hire 10 new full-time workers. The Lancaster IDA normally does not approve tax breaks for restaurants, but this one is situated within the town's enhancement zone. It will receive sales tax exemptions as well as mortgage tax and property tax abatements.


Blum Swimwear is taking over the former Pitt Petri store on Main Street in Williamsville. Blum's Swimwear and Intimate Apparel is currently located in Amherst's Walker Center.  


 Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?


Do you think this insurance agency would make the Top 50?




Tax help live chat

Tax breaks ... and more

   In Business Today, Verizon gets its tax breaks, and is still hungry. While a company that makes cardboard wants its cut.

Verizon granted tax break for center - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
   Verizon Communications was granted a 20-year tax break for its $4.5 billion data center in Somerset on Wednesday, but the company is trying to use the project as leverage to obtain changes in state regulations and defeat of a piece of state legislation it opposes.
   “We still have what we consider some unfinished business,” Verizon spokeswoman Maureen Rasp-Glose said after the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency unanimously approved the tax package.
   The deal involves sales and property tax abatements totaling $518 million over 20 years and would result in the company paying about 15 percent of its tax liability. Verizon also has secured a commitment from the New York Power Authority for 25 megawatts of discounted hydropower that would save the company an estimated $96 million over 15 years.
   The company’s plan is to create 200 jobs, paying an average of $85,000 a year, on 158 acres of land on Lake Road next to the AES Corp. power plant. AES would sell the land to Verizon. The total value of the package — $614 million — is the largest subsidy deal offered a company in Western New York and works out to nearly $3.1 million per job. ...
  State and local officials have lobbied hard for the project, but the company also has some concerns about putting a project in New York. Rasp-Glose said Verizon wants the State Legislature to defeat a bill that would require the company to rebate 40 percent of the proceeds from any sale or merger of its New York operations, either in cash to ratepayers or by means of infrastructure investments in New York.
   Rasp-Glose said the Legislature also needs to loosen Public Service Commission regulations on its business, which she said the company considers “antiquated.” ...
  The rebate bill Verizon opposes was passed by the Assembly on July 1 under the sponsorship of Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester County Democrat. Assembly cosponsors included Erie County Democrats Sam Hoyt, Dennis H. Gabryszak and Mark J. F. Schroeder, while Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes signed on later.
   However, the bill is stalled in the Senate, where lame-duck Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Lake View, was among the cosponsors.
   Brodsky told The Buffalo News on Wednesday that the bill involves property Verizon owned before the deregulation of the telephone industry. He called the company’s attempt to tie it to the data center project “an elegant form of blackmail.”

Cardboard plant seeks tax break - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
  A Canadian company that operates a Niagara Falls cardboard plant applied Wednesday for a 20-year tax break on a new paper mill in the Falls.
   The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency expects to vote Dec. 15 on the deal with Norampac’s [in English] newly formed subsidiary, Greenpac Mill.
   The company plans to invest $407.5 million to demolish an abandoned mill next to its active plant on Packard Road and erect a new one on the same site, creating 110 new jobs in the process.
   The 120 jobs in the existing Norampac plant will stay put, and its operations will continue, General Manager Luc Nadeau said.
   A public hearing on the payment- in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement is to be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 in Niagara Falls City Hall. ...

   This Verizon deal may be getting more complicated:


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

A big bar tab. A long road.

   Featured in Business Today:

Restaurant owners air audit grievances - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
  Mark Supples [right], the owner of Mother's restaurant in Allentown, spent five years and more than $150,000 Mothers fighting the state over claims that he owed more than $535,000 in sales taxes.
   Supples eventually won his case last year, but the time and money it took to do it left a bad taste in his mouth over the way the state Department of Taxation and Finance has ramped up its efforts to make sure bars and restaurants pay all of their required sales taxes.
   "They come in with the attitude that we're automatically guilty, that we're criminals, and that it's just a question of how much we've stolen," Supples said Monday as a group of local restaurant owners met with state tax officials to discuss their concerns over the stepped-up audits.
   Even if a restaurant owner has done nothing wrong, the operators said the audits can have a chilling effect on their business that lasts a long time. With audits often dragging on for two years or more, they said the uncertainty that they could be facing a large tax bill often causes them to stop hiring or investing in their business until their case is settled. ...

Backers push Route 219 expressway - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   Supporters of “Continental 1” envision a corridor from Toronto to Miami, benefiting businesses and residents along the 1,500-mile driving route.
   But the concept faces obstacles in New York State, where plans for extending the Route 219 expressway have stalled. The complete project would create a four-lane highway over 28 miles from Springville to Interstate 86 near Salamanca.
   “Right now, if you go down the 219 once you get south of Springville, it’s a winding, curvy road,” said Frank Billittier, assistant regional design engineer for the state Department of Transportation. “There’s a lot of noise. There’s a significant amount of accidents. You have other environmental impacts that we’re trying to reduce by putting in the four-lane freeway.” ...

   Maybe the bar owners should have this guy representing them:


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Taxes. Taxes. Taxes.

   My long-standing complaint against a certain form of conservative economic thinking, that usually promoted by Wall Street Journal editorial page, is that it considers just about every economic decision people make is a reaction to tax law. I still think that's bogus. But today's big local stories in Business Today would support the WSJ thesis:

- Home sales plunge 37% as tax credit expires - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   The Buffalo Niagara housing market is suffering from a post-tax credit hangover.
   Home sales, which soared in June as homebuyers scrambled to close their deals in time to claim a tax credit of as much as $8,000, plunged by 37 percent in July, after the incentives expired.
   Despite the slump in sales, the median home price remained fairly stable, slipping by 1 percent to $117,177 in July from $118,600 a year earlier. ...
   While mortgage rates remain near the lowest levels in decades, the sluggish economy and tougher credit standards imposed by lenders continue to restrain many potential buyers, said John Leonardi, the executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.
- Retail sales, number of home contracts increase - Washington Post 
- Housing Stocks Lift As Pending Sales Pick Up - Forbes
- Home sales a pleasant surprise - Reuters
- Stocks move higher following jobs, housing reports - AP/Buffalo News   

- Trade group targets cigarette tax hike - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
   A statewide trade group of convenience stores wants Gov. David A. Paterson to suspend a sharp increase in the sales tax on cigarettes, as the state and Native American retailers tussle over tax Cigarettes collections.
   The New York Association of Convenience Stores contends that Paterson made a "double-edged bargain" with the State Legislature this year: raising excise taxes on cigarettes to $4.35 per pack, from $2.75 per pack, starting July 1, while mitigating the impact by starting to capture taxes on Native American sales of cigarettes to non-Native Americans on Wednesday.
   But the collection of state taxes on cigarette sales to non-Native Americans has been put off, at least for now, following court rulings.
   "If one side of this bargain has been placed on hold, it's only fair that the other should be put on hold, as well," James S. Calvin, president of the convenience store group, said in a letter to Paterson this week.
   The trade group urged Paterson to issue an executive order that would temporarily return the cigarette tax to $2.75 per pack. Morgan W. Hook, a spokesman for the governor, said in response that Paterson "cannot suspend the law."
Cigarette Sales Plummet at Tax-Collecting Stores - New York Association of Convenience Stores 
- Cancer Society submits legal brief backing cigarette tax enforcement - Dan Herbeck/The Buffalo News
- Paladino talks tough about Seneca issue - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
- Media coverage criticized at reservation rally - Aaron Besecker/Buffalo Live

- The 97% Fallacy - The Wall Street Journal
   Because marginal tax rate increases impede long-run growth, they should be avoided in good times and bad. But now is a particularly inopportune time to raise rates.

   Well, there they go again.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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