New Cheese On The Block

BLOCKVILLE – More than 200 jobs are coming to Blockville.

A year after AFA Foods shut down, the former meat processing plant will open its doors again for Empire State Specialty Cheese Co. LLC.

On Wednesday, Empire State Development announced the specialty cheese company, which makes fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheese, bought the plant to allow the business to process and package cheese for private labeling and expand the product lines to include a wide variety of cubed and shredded cheeses. Empire State Specialty Cheese will close down its plant on Route 62 in Conewango Valley to move to Blockville.

“We welcome the Empire Specialty Cheese Company to Chautauqua County,” said Greg Edwards, Chautauqua County executive. “We are especially happy to have them because they are returning a landmark building in the food industry back into a vital manufacturing facility. It will be a place where hundreds of people will be able to find work and a paycheck to bring home to their families.”

The company will invest $6.37 million to expand its business in Chautauqua County, resulting in the creation of 204 new jobs during the first five years. Empire State Development assisted Empire Specialty Cheese with its expansion project by providing $650,000 in Excelsior Job Program tax credits.

The Excelsior Job Program gives tax credits to strategic businesses such as high tech, bio-tech, clean-tech and manufacturing that create jobs or make significant capital investments.

“Tony (Caparco) and I are not very political-no offense-but, I will tell you that the people you see behind us (the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency) – they were aggressive,” said Jerry Matteis, co-owner of Empire Specialty Cheese Co. LLC. “They went out of their way. They returned phone calls; we never waited. So for any other business owners that are out there that are considering anything, you can’t ask for anything more. You have to be nuts not to come here and ask to see if you can move your business here. The opportunities are big. There are a lot of people around. I just wanted to say that, that’s why we’re here.”

In April 2013 a German-based company, saturn petcare inc., showed interest in the Blockville plant as one of its North American locations. The deal looked promising until June when an infrastructure issue concerning the water supply came up, and the deal fell through. William Daly, administrative director and CEO of Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, said the issue has since been fixed after the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency talked to the owner and recommended a well driller who found a geyser of water on AFA property three weeks ago.

“We are very fortunate because the New York state economic development group is called Empire State Corporation and Diego (Sirianni) has been a great representative of Empire State Development,” Daly said. “They are here today as a major part of this announcement because they are doing a program that is helping Empire Specialty Cheese in our region.”

“In Chautauqua County and Western New York, local businesses like Empire Specialty Cheese are expanding, investing in their community and creating new jobs for New Yorkers,” Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said. “This company’s choice to invest in economic improvements in Western New York is another example of what can happen when state government partners with businesses to help them succeed.”

Senator Catharine M. Young said, “New York’s cheese and dairy industry is a robust and thriving part of our agricultural sector and one of our state’s greatest economic assets. This expansion will reinvigorate our local economy, create hundreds of valuable jobs, and promote Chautauqua County-produced cheese products across the state. My hat is off to Empire Specialty Cheese and all the local and state officials who worked together to bring these new jobs to our community.”

AFA Foods had been connected to a “pink slime” controversy in 2012, which caused the meat processing company to file for bankruptcy in April of that year. “Pink slime” refers to mechanically processed meat products known officially in the meat processing industry as lean finely textured beef and boneless lean beef trimmings. Since July, it had been looking to sell its plant on 277 Fairbank Road in Blockville.

“The assistance that New York State is providing to the Empire Cheese Company is helping it expand, bringing new jobs to Chautauqua County and putting a vacant building to good use,” Assemblyman Andy Goodell said. “We are excited that this company is growing its business and its job force.”

Applications for jobs are currently being taken, and resume and contact information can be sent to EmpireSpecialtyCheese@yahoo.com.