It’s easy to market the Rochester metropolitan area in good times given the region’s numerous assets. From its plethora of colleges and universities to its fruitful tourism and hospitality industry to its concentration of optics, photonics and imaging firms, Rochester has much to offer businesses looking for a great place to locate.
But like many organizations, Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. has had to shift its marketing efforts since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downswing that is pervading the region, the state, even the global economy. GRE, the region’s economic development dealmaker tasked with supporting business growth and relocation in the area, is working closely with businesses to ensure they have all the information and resources they need, while also trying to close on a number of deals that already were in the works when the pandemic struck, said GRE President and CEO Matt Hurlbutt.
“A lot of things have slowed down,” Hurlbutt said. “One of the things we’re working on is still checking in. Some have gone on hold, others are slowly reevaluating, and I think that’s going on across the country and throughout the world.”
Ten deals were in the works when things came to a standstill a few weeks ago. Fortunately, the Rochester region already had eight wins under its belt since the start of the year, Hurlbutt said.
“Having eight wins this early in the first quarter, by the end of February, was a good sign,” he said.
Those eight wins for Rochester include Calero MDSL, CloudCheckr, Expressway Cinema, GreenLight Biosciences Inc., Li-Cycle Corp., Mastodon Design, Piranha Milling and ProAmpac, which collectively amount to $66 million of new capital investments, the creation of 858 new jobs and retention of 455 jobs here.
GreenLight said in February that it planned to construct a pilot plant at Eastman Business Park (EBP). The project would create up to 30 jobs that support the production of GreenLight’s ribonucleic acid-based solutions for the agriculture and health care industries.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $16.6 million.
Also in February, ProAmpac, a flexible packaging manufacturer, announced plans for an $8 million, 25,000-square-foot expansion of an existing facility on Manitou Road in Ogden. The project is expected to add up to 40 new employees.
The innovation center, slated for completion in mid-2021, will focus on packaging development and design and will also host regional and global consumer packaged goods companies and vendors for events and training.
Canadian battery recovery company Li-Cycle this year said it too would set up operations at EBP, creating roughly two-dozen jobs in its first year of operation.
The lithium-ion battery resource recovery company will establish its first U.S.-based facility in northern Monroe County. EBP was selected as the best location to serve the company’s client base in the South and Midwest. The total project cost is expected to be $23.3 million over a three-year period, but Li-Cycle said it expected the facility to be fully operational later this year.
Economic development in Rochester boomed in 2019, Hurlbutt noted. GRE posted a record number of project wins last year, with 33 projects representing $171 million of new capital investments, the creation of more than 1,100 new jobs and the retention of more than 3,200 jobs.
In the area’s biggest win, LiDestri Foods Inc. invested $51 million last year in a partnership with Crop’s N.V. of Belgium to produce ready-to-eat meals at a new facility at EBP. The collaboration would create more than 120 new full-time jobs in the next five years, officials said at the time.
The project includes the construction of a 65,000-square-foot facility at EBP, as well as the addition of manufacturing lines, a railroad extension and utility upgrades. Rochester beat out locations in Pennsylvania and Illinois for the placement of the facility, CEO Giovanni LiDestri told the RBJ last year.
Optics manufacturer Viavi Solutions Inc. grew its operations in the town of Henrietta last year, following the acquisition of RPC Photonics in 2018.
Empire State Development officials said the company would create up to 23 jobs and retain 44 at the new, 30,000-square-foot plant on John Street. The expansion was expected to be completed in February this year.
Zweigle’s Inc. last year invested nearly $19 million to build a 29,000 square-foot expansion and create 33 new jobs in the city. The project is slated for completion in late 2022.
“This expansion is an integral part of our strategic plans and will continue to support the growth we’ve been experiencing over the last five years,” said Zweigle’s CEO Julie Camardo at the time. “We’re proud to not only keep our facilities in Rochester, but also to aid the poverty initiative by adding new employment opportunities for our neighbors here in the city.”
A portion of the state assistance Zweigle’s received for the project will be directed to hiring 12 people in poverty.
Other GRE wins last year include:
- Pactiv—A $9 million investment, adding 30 jobs and retaining 452;
- Security Risk Advisors—Creating 67 jobs and retaining four in an $11.5 million project;
- Hickey Freeman—An $8.2 million project to create 80 jobs and retain 420;
- WellMade Supplements—A $4 million investment to create 25 jobs and retain 15; and
- Fieldtex Products—A $6.5 million investment, adding 51 jobs and retaining 205.
“2019 was a great year for us,” Hurlbutt said of the year’s projects. “The volume of activity that we were managing really helped us secure those eight wins in 2020, and also led us to be very optimistic as we looked at likely wins that we expect to be announced in the near future.
“The curveball is the status of the global economic condition and the country’s economic condition in relation to the coronavirus and whether that will slow things down,” he added. “It certainly will in the near future.”
As we head toward a global recession, GRE is working with elected officials, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc. and other partners to share critical business information that includes updates on Small Business Administration loans, the recent stimulus package from the federal government and more, Hurlbutt said.
But GRE certainly has not stopped promoting the region either.
“We do highlight companies like Idex, a local company in health and science using their photonics assets in the fight against the virus, as well as University of Rochester working on a vaccine, Hickey Freeman making masks, Optimax involved in supply chain that’s very important,” Hurlbutt said. “And then we speak to what we always talk about: smart people, smart businesses. I think all of those assets do speak well for the future of the region.
“This community comes together in a unique way and we’ve got all the right assets for the future,” he added. “I think what you’re seeing is some outstanding work in our health care system, medical device, research and folks just sharing information and coming together to solve problems.”
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