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How hard-working Synacor employees keep loose

What do singing competitions, mustache-growing contests, scale models of the solar system and a snack-eating challenge have in common? They're all part of the way one local high-tech company builds camaraderie and keeps their employees happy.

Synacor designs, builds and hosts online tools for millions of customers of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, including DISH Network and Verizon.

I recently interviewed George Chamoun, Synacor's executive vice president of sales and marketing, for a Strategies for Success article that will appear in Sunday's paper.

During my visit to Synacor's Silicon Valley-influenced offices on the Buffalo waterfront, I was struck by the degree to which the company encourages its employees to bond and let off steam.

First, the mustache-growing contest. The winner earns the "Burt Reynolds Award," as well as a championship belt adorned with a mustache. Current champ Matt "Maestro" Copeland displays those with pride outside his work area.

Synacor employee Darci Hosier, my guide to exploring this side of the company, explained competitors must start with a clean-shaven face 30 days before the contest ends. (Yes, it is an all-male contest. No, Synacor hasn't come up with an appealing female equivalent.)

For the past two years, the company has held a "Synacor Idol" contest at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. The best performances end up on YouTube, as in this cover of Prince's Purple Rain by Bill Eager. (Eager sings in the band Social Scientists when he's not at Synacor.)

It's not all about the intensely fought competitions. I got a kick out of seeing a scale model of the solar system floating above one section of cubicles in the office. Eric Wastl set it up, starting with a marble for Earth that's about one inch across and making every other planet and moon fit accordingly. (Jupiter is about the size of a beach ball, and the distance from Mercury to Pluto is 196 feet.)

Some of the activities are unofficial, such as a Six Pack Club that meets monthly to trade craft beers.

And the one I found the most intriguing: The Vending Machine Challenge.

Syancor subsidizes the cost of snacks and pop in its vending machines, charging workers just 25 cents per item. Not counting the gum and hard candy, there are 35 snack items in the main vending machine, starting with Friday's Potato Skins and ending with a pack of Pop Tarts.

To complete the challenge, a contestant must eat one of everything, in order left to right and top to bottom, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in one day, according to Synacor's Jeff Lukasavich. Anyone able to do this gets his or her $8.75 back, plus a pot swelled by the $10 every losing competitor must pay into it.

Nobody's ever done it, and the pot is up to $210, Lukasavich said. Of course, Lukasavich has calculated the total amount of fat (416.5 grams) and calories (9327) in the Challenge items. That's the equivalent of eating 38 Mighty Taco tacos, or 2.5 6-pound tubs of nacho cheese, in an eight-hour period, he said. Yum.

-- Stephen T. Watson

Baum firm fined $2 million, Seneca president blasts rival casinos and Norse Energy cuts staff

From Business Today:


An Amherst law firm accused of unscrupulous foreclosure practices has admitted mistakes and received penalties.

Steven J. Baum PC agreed to pay a $2 million fine and "extensively overhaul" its practices. The firm handles about 40 percent of all foreclosures in New York State. The firm is accused of filing misleading affidavits and other documents on behalf of lenders.


Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter testified before a Senate committee Thursday, saying corporate casino owners are trying to bar Indian tribes from gaining access to an impending boom in Internet gambling.

Porter later said that the Seneca Nation is not pushing Internet gaming, but wants a piece of the action should Congress open the market.


A Hamburg energy company has laid off more than half of its staff. Norse Energy Corp. eliminated 25 jobs last month at its main New York office in Hamburg.

The cuts will save the company $300,000 a month as it waits for New York to allow hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale Region. The Norwegian company, which is running out of cash, has also been trying to sell some of the 180,000 acres of land it controls in New York and has considered selling additional stock to raise money.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

People are still reeling from Steve Jobs' passing. What can we learn from the way he lived his life?


Crawford Furniture closes all stores, local bankruptcy filings drop, Oxbo acquired by Dutch company, Rigases ask for overturned sentences and NYSEG will pay for old fridges

From Business Today:

 Crawford Furniture will close all five of its retail outlets as part of its strategy to emerge from bankruptcy a stronger company. One of Jamestown's last remaining hardwood furniture makers, Crawford has struggled with flagging retail sales and was forced to close its production facility in August, laying off 100 workers.Crawford

In an attempt to turn things around, Crawford will return to its original strategy of making furniture for sale through independent furniture dealers throughout the country. Customers who have already made deposits on furniture will have their orders filled within one month, Crawford reps said, or can pick new merchandise off the showroom floor during going-out-of-business sales that start today.

Some customers have been waiting months for orders that were not filled. In accordance with U.S. Bankruptcy Court, customers will not receive monetary refunds totaling more than $2,600.


Bankruptcy filings are down locally. New bankruptcy filings in Western New York dropped 14.7 percent in September from the previous year. It's the lowest level in at least a decade. Bankruptcies fell by 17 percent nationally.

For 2011, filings are down 19.5 percent locally. There were a total of 603 filings in September, including 421 cases in Buffalo (a drop of 6 percent) and 182 in Rochester (a drop of 29.7 percent).


A local agricultural equipment manufacturer has been acquired by a Dutch company.

Oxbow International, a 120-employee company in Byron, has been acquired by Ploeger Agro, which makes specialty harvesting equipment. All three of the companies sites will remain open and employees will not be affected, company officials said. The merger is expected to help the company better compete in emerging global markets.


John Rigas and his son Timothy, the Adelphia Communications Corp. executives who are doing time for securities fraud, claim prosecutors withheld key evidence that would exonerate them. They are asking for their convictions and sentences to be overturned.


NYSEG is asking its customers to turn in old refrigerators and freezers for recycling. In attempt to get inefficient units off the grid, it is offering to pick up and recycle the old appliances, paying customers $30to do so. Customers will also receive six compact fluorescent lightbulbs as a thank-you.

 Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Steve Jobs is dead at 56.


Ford plant could add jobs, home sales back on track and Flix Theatre gets upgrade

From Business Today:


A local Ford plant could get a major boost if a tentative deal goes through with the United Auto Workers. Ford Motor Co.'s Buffalo Stamping Plant in Hamburg could get a $136 million infusion and add 400 new jobs if the tentative pact it has with the UAW goes through. Another 120 laid-off workers could also be called back to the job.

Under the agreement, the Route 5 plant would keep stamping parts for the Ford Flex and Edge and the Lincoln MKT and MKX as well as a new "blanking" line (which cuts sheet metal) along with other work. Votes are expected next week.


Home sales in the Buffalo Niagara region are doing swell, according to local realtors. Home sales in August were up 45 percent over the previous year's record low.

In August, 925 homes were sold, compared to 639 during the same month in 2010. This year's August numbers were a 9 percent increase over July 2010. The average home price was $138,648. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.32 percent.


An aging local movie theater is getting an extreme makeover. Dipson Theatres will put millions of dollars into its newly acquired Flix Theatre on Transit Road in Lancaster. Flix will get the latest 3-D technology and will be the first to have D-BOX seating here, which simulates motion according to what is playing on the screen. Dipson bought flix in July for $2.29 million.

The first new seats will be available Oct. 21. D-BOX tickets will have an $8 surcharge and require reservations. The entire project should be complete by November.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

This kid wants to get the Led out:


Senate eyes Chinese currency, Buffalo are consumers a bit more gloomy, and First Niagara poised to sell some branches...

From Business Today:

The U.S. Senate is getting serious about Chinese currency manipulation. A measure that would make it easier for the U.S. to place tariffs on imports form China if it is determined the Chinese currency is "misaligned," passed a procedural vote and is certain toChina Currency  pass later this week. The House may or may not take it up. However, the passage in the Senate indicates that the nation's leaders are tired of waiting for the Chinese to let its yuan float on the world currency market. By keeping the value of its currency low, the Chinese government makes its exports cheaper. Advocates for the tariff, including New York Sen. Charles Schumer, say that it is an unfair boost to Chinese manufacturers, and it has cost the U.S. thousands of jobs. Opponents say a trade war with China is not what our economy needs.

Consumers in the Bufffalo Niagara region are a little less willing to spend than they were in the spring. The Siena Research Institute survey shows the good news is that we are a little more upbeat than we LANCASTER SAVE-A-LOT were a year ago. Economists credit the gloomy job scene and frantic and sliding stock market for the dip.

First Niagara Bank is awaiting an antitrust ruling from the U.S. Justice Department before it can sell about any of the upstate branches it is buying from HSBC.FIRST NIAGARA_001  The bank put out a statement on the matter because its previously announced deadline for the branch sales passed.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?


Buffalo Niagara's second medical corridor, small furniture maker, regional stocks sag, and senior dicsounts...

From Business Today:

The Buffalo Niagara region has a second medical corridor that has grownDr. Lillis  up around the Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst. The area includes dozens of doctors' offices and giant medical practices that have built small private hospitals that can handle outpatient surgeries and complex diagnostics. The concentration of medical offices serves a different purpose from the downtown Buffalo medical corridor, which focuses on research, education and often more serious medical conditions. The Northtowns cluster has sprung up to serve the aging and growing population there.

Colecraft Commercial Furnishings is a small furniture maker carrying on the long tradition in the Jamestown area. Located in neighboring Falconer, the maker of custom office furniture has found that Colecraft2

close customer service and the ability to handle smaller projects have given it a niche to compete against the large international furniture makers.

Publicly traded companies in the Buffalo Niagara region had a miserable third quarter. It was the worst showing for the local stocks since the first quarter of 2009. Only two of the 19 companies saw their stocks rise - Taylor Devices and Astronics.

Craft beer brewers, including Buffalo's own Flying Bison Brewing Co., are considering expanding their production capacity to meet demand. Some products, it seems,FLYING BISON  can do well in a slow economy.

In MoneySmart, find a rundown of some of the special deals senior citizens can find. There are a surprising number of them.

Who is getting hired, promoted or honored?

Recent area real estate transactions...

More on that vacant Uniland industrial park

Sometimes a reporter has more information in his notebook than he is able to fit into an article for the paper, so it's nice to have a blog to amplify our original coverage.

This week, we ran an article about Uniland Development Co.'s Eastport Commerce Center in Lancaster, a site that has sat vacant for eight years despite the company's $7 million investment in roads and utility connections to the property.

Erie County is now saying Uniland will have to pay back a $490,000 federal grant --- money that passed from HUD to the county to the Town of Lancaster to Uniland --- because Uniland hasn't met the job-creation requirements included in the terms of the grant.

The status of the 120-acre industrial park has come up at recent Lancaster Town Board and Lancaster IDA meetings, so here's a few things that came out of those discussions worth pondering as we wait for the Bills to take the field Sunday against the Bengals:

---As The News reported, the Eastport site at Walden Avenue and Pavement Road was one of the properties Yahoo considered for the data center the company eventually built in Lockport. Several Lancaster officials said they believe Yahoo was scared off by the price Uniland was seeking. Similar parcels in that part of town were going for $30,000 to $40,000 per acre, while Yahoo was given a price of $77,000 per acre, several Lancaster officials said at a Town Board meeting. Buffalo Niagara Enterprise officials confirmed Yahoo's interest, but said the price wasn't the factor that drove Yahoo to look at other data-center sites. Lancaster Superviser Bob Giza said he's not sure the price scared off Yahoo, but one IDA member, channeling Jimmy McMillan, said "The price is too damn high."

---Will Uniland really have to pay back the $490,000 HUD grant by March 2012 if they don't bring in a tenant? Paul Leone, a Lancaster IDA consultant, said he's not sure, "politically speaking." At this month's IDA meeting he said he suspects that top officials from the well-connected development company will call County Executive Chris Collins to lobby him before any money is returned.

---Buffalo Niagara Enterprise officials say the Eastport site has received interest from a number of companies, and Giza said this month that the federal government considered the property, and adjoining land, as a site for a National Veterans Cemetery proposed for Western New York. If the Lancaster site had been selected, it would have been good for veterans and their families in Erie County but it would have taken the property off the tax rolls, Giza said at the IDA meeting. The federal government has not yet announced where it plans to build the cemetery, but Giza said it's likely to be somewhere in Genesee County.

---Stephen T. Watson

Tops gets to keep three disputed P&C stores and Fisher-Price teams up with Sherwin-Williams, Rachel Zoe

From Business Today:


Tops Friendly Markets gets to keep three of the seven Penn Traffic stores the FTC originally told it to sell. Neither Tops nor an appointed trustee, the Food Partners, was able to find a buyer for P&C stores in Lockport, Sayre, Pa. or Ithaca. Tops will keep the Lockport and Pennsylvania stores open under the Tops banner and close the Ithaca location. Tops was granted a 90-day extension to finish the sale of another P&C in Bath. Tops is in negotiations with an undisclosed buyer for that location. Three other stores were sold to Hometown Markets.


 Fisher-Price is offering a cool new design tool for parents.

The East Aurora toy company, along with Sherwin-Williams and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe launched "Room to Bloom," a free, online design tool that helps parents use the companies' products to design their child's nursery.

Users can then oh-so-conveniently click on any of the baby gear or paint colors for purchasing information.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Go Bills!


EPIC senior drug coverage will be limited and Gemcor improves service to China

From Business Today:


Low- and moderate-income Seniors in New York State will be noticing changes in their prescription drug coverage beginning Jan. 1. The state is making changes to its Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program in response to the budget crisis. The EPIC program will now only pay for Medicare Part D co-payments that are charged after a recipient's coverage limit has been exhausted but before the catastrophic coverage kicks in.


A West Seneca manufacturer is taking steps to improve its sales to China. Aircraft fastening systems maker Gemcor has formed a joint venture with AVIC Beijing Aeronautical Manufacturing Technology Research Institute to provide technical service to Chinese customers and provide spare parts and routine maintenance.


 Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Amazon unveiled Kindle Fire Wednesday, the company's response to the Apple iPad:


Lake Erie windmills killed, Uniland seeks a tenant, Albany area scores big, and Wendt Corp. buys local plant...

From Business Today:

The New York Power Authority made it official Tuesday: there will be no wind farms built in Lake Erie just offshore in Erie and Chautauqua counties. As The News previously reported, NYPA bailed out on the project due to the costs. Electricity is just too cheap now with WIND TURBINES the gold rush of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region. NYPA said it will consider an offshore wind farm near Long Island, but that is years and years away.  While environmentalists are disapopointed, landowners along the lake are joyous.

Uniland has always been a bold development company. It will build grand buildings and office parks on spec, confident that it will find tenants. But they may have stretched a bit too far with the Eastport Commerce Center in Lancaster. The park is shovel ready, with utilities and roads in place, but it has remained empty for eight years. Now the federal government is turning up the heat. Either get some tenants in there or return the $490,000 federal grant used to help build it. Uniland is confident a tenant can be found.

The Albany scored an economic development grand slam Tuesday when Gov. Cuomo announced that NY Business Statewide several high-tech companies are investing $4.4 billion in the region's nanotechnology industry. The companies are seeking a new generation of computer chips, and it could create up to 6,900 jobs from the Finger Lakes to Albany. While not in Western New York, it is great news for the entire state, and some ambient heat is sure to reach Buffalo from the work.

Wendt Corp. is a Western New York success story. The company makes giant machines that grind up cars and other scrap metal. It just bought the former Gibraltar Steel facility on Walden Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda and plans to Wendt move its manufacturing operations to the new site.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?


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