Financial giant BlackRock, Thurman Thomas' 3480 Group among newest Start-Up NY companies in Buffalo

A global money management firm with an Amherst data center and a small company co-founded by Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas were accepted into the state's Start-Up NY program, which lowers or eliminates most state taxes for 10 years for businesses that agree to create jobs.

BlackRock promises to create 50 jobs at its data center at 350 CrossPoint Parkway in CrossPoint Business Park. That figure includes 25 jobs the company previously pledged to create there when it was granted tax breaks by the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

The company, Erie Community College and the Amherst IDA all had to carefully coordinate BlackRock's participation in Start-Up NY, which rewards companies that locate on properties connected to New York’s colleges and universities.

The second company, 3480 Group, is a partnership between Thomas and his former teammate, Fulton "Flip" Johnson, founded in 2014 that specializes in telecommunications projects. The company plans to invest $33,000 and create six jobs as it expands into renewable energy projects, also in a partnership through ECC.

In addition, 18 companies that pledge to invest $4.2 million and create 238 jobs were accepted into Start-Up NY tax-free zones with ties to the University at Buffalo.

The UB-hosted companies include the eight startups that were winners in last year's 43North business plan competition and that received financial prizes on the condition they relocate to the area for one year. They include Oncolinx, the $1 million grand-prize winner that is trying to develop cancer immunotherapies.

They were among 43 businesses pledging to create 640 jobs and invest $15 million statewide, Empire State Development announced late Thursday.

Typically, companies must locate in a tax-free zone on a college campus or within one mile of a campus to participate in the program. Also, eligible employees have to be new hires in a separate business operation.

BlackRock Inc., which manages more than $4 trillion worldwide and has offices in 30 countries, received $9.2 million in tax breaks from the Amherst IDA in 2014 to support the construction of its $80 million data center in Amherst. BlackRock promised to create 25 engineering jobs by 2018.

There are a handful of employees on site now as the operation gets up and running, a company spokesman, Ed Sweeney, told The Buffalo News on Friday.

BlackRock went to ECC and the state to propose creating a separate but related operation, known as BlackRock Niagara LLC, at the CrossPoint site that would be eligible for the Start-Up NY program. That entity would agree to hire ECC interns and graduates, because collaboration with the college partner is another provision of the Start-Up NY program.

Sweeney said Friday that the 50 employees proposed for the Start-Up NY program include the 25 originally pledged for the center. They work in information technology and corporate operations.

ECC's board last year had to agree to designate 350 CrossPoint as "on campus" for the purposes of the Start-Up NY program, and the Amherst IDA had to lease from BlackRock nearly 6,700 square feet of space at 350 CrossPoint, then sublease it back to BlackRock Niagara.

Michael J. Pietkiewicz, senior vice president of operations at ECC, said the college is glad to have the final notification of BlackRock's acceptance from the state.

"It's a really good opportunity for the college," Pietkiewicz said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his 2018 budget proposal has called for refocusing the Start-Up NY program on start-up companies, meaning firms such as BlackRock would no longer be eligible for the program's benefits.

Jason Conwall, an Empire State Development spokesman, said if the proposal becomes law, BlackRock and similar companies already accepted into Start-Up NY would be grandfathered in, but they would not be eligible for the enhanced benefits available under the recast program.

As for 3480 Group, Pietkiewicz said Thomas, the retired Bills running back, has a longstanding connection to ECC, having served on the college's foundation and given money to scholarships dating back to his playing days.

He said Thomas and his business partner were considering joining Start-Up NY through UB, but college officials urged them to look at an ECC zone.

The college convinced Thomas and Johnson to relocate a portion of the business to Buffalo, where they will set up shop at 500 Seneca St., which is within one mile of ECC's City Campus, Pietkiewicz said.