AMHERST, NY - Billionaire investor Warren Buffett was a Western New York visitor Tuesday, when he came Amherst to help celebrate a milestone reached by one of the many companies he owns --GEICO.
GEICO's local workforce has reached 2,500 employees, some two years ahead of projections made when insurance giant announced plans to build a 250,000 square foot claims center at the Crosspoint office park.
"People go where they're welcome, there's no question about it, Buffet told WGRZ-TV. "And Western New York has got its arms out."
That certainly was true ten years ago when New York State, under then Governor George Pataki, gave GEICO tax breaks and incentives totaling $100 million dollars to locate here.
Yet a decade later, the state still consistently ranks among the worst in survey's of CEOs, in terms of where they would start a company.
Enter Governor Cuomo with his recently proposed Tax-Free New York program, that would have start ups near SUNY campuses, and their employees, paying no taxes at all for 10 years. (After criticism of the program from both liberals and conservatives, about rewarding some companies at the risk of hurting others, Cuomo suddenly changed the name of the program from TaxFree NY to StartUp NY).
"The governor has come up with a lot of imaginative and I think very useful ideas that will make a real difference in employment," Buffett said.
However, Buffett also says taxes aren't always the primary factor of where to locate a business.
In the case of GEICO decision to locate in the Buffalo area, he says a larger factor was the type of available workforce, fostered by many nearby colleges and universities.
"It was huge," said Buffett. "We know productivity, and if you get good people, well...that's number one."
GEICO is not the only one of the approximately seventy companies owned by Buffett with a foothold in Western New York.
He also owns, the The Buffalo News.
"The future of newspapers is generally tough, but the Buffalo News does very well for a paper of its size," said Buffett. "It has done relatively well compared to metropolitan papers around the country, but newspapers are declining in general," he said.
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