State tax credits are helping a Southern Tier cheese manufacturer expand its operations.
Empire Specialty Cheese Co., LLC is moving from Conewango Valley in Cattauraugus County to North Harmony in neighboring Chautauqua. The company will occupy a larger, existing facility at 277 Fairfield Road that will allow it to increase its output and hire more than 200 new workers over the next five years.
Empire received $650,000 in Excelsior Job Program tax credits from Empire State Development and $600,000 from the county IDA. The tax credits become fully realized if the company reaches yearly employment goals.
"Everybody from the IDA [and] all the legislators really pushed hard to get this done for us. We're really appreciative to all the people involved," co-owner Tony Caparco told WBFO News.
Caparco says the $6.37 million investment will greatly increase Empire's production capabilities. He says the new facility, the former AFA meat processing plant, is "perfect."
"Right now, our building has only roughly 12,000 square feet of production. This building has 80,000 square feet and every room in it is refrigerated, which is ideal for us," Caparco said.
The company, which started in 2000, makes ricotta and mozzarella cheese and employs 45 people. The new plant will allow Empire to expand its product lines and increase demand for locally-produced milk.
Currently, the company makes fresh mozzarella cheese, but doesn't "finish" the cheese. Instead, it sells the cheese to other companies who use it to make product. The new facility will create finished products, including new lines of cubed and shredded cheeses.
"We're going from making two line items to maybe making seven or eight or nine," Caparco added.
Caparco says Empire currently uses around 225,000 pounds of milk per day, a number that will be closer to one million under the new operation. That increased demand will allow local dairy farmers to keep their milk in Western New York instead of selling to other states, as they often do.
If the sale closes in the next few weeks, the facility is expected to open in 10-12 months.