Long-Time Neighbor Cuba Cheese will Close:
Great Lakes Cheese pulls plug on
$505 million plant in Allegany County
The proposal had called for construction of a 480,000 square-foot cheese manufacturing facility along County Route 20, in the Crossroads development area off I-86 in the towns of Amity and Angelica. The new plant would replace the existing Great Lakes Cheese facility in Cuba, which produces a number of signature products for the Cuba Cheese Shoppe locally, among other customers.
Citing infrastructure issues, specifically electricity, Great Lakes Cheese is no longer targeting the Crossroads location, the company confirmed to The Spectator on Tuesday.
“We’ve been working with RG&E for about 18 months on power to the site, and unfortunately it just didn’t pan out,” said Matthew Wilkinson, Great Lakes Cheese Vice President of Technology and Business Development. “There’s obviously a lot of reasons behind that, but the summary of it is that the electricity to the site is an exceedingly long duration, longer than the amount of time we would have before we would need power out there, at an extremely high cost.”
A rendering of the land proposed to be acquired for the Great Lakes Cheese project in Allegany County. RG&E released a statement Wednesday that it was "very disappointed" to learn of the decision not to move forward with the Crossroads location. The company stated it remains committed to economic development projects in the area.
“RG&E, along with regional and county economic development partners, has been very active in supporting the state’s economic development proposal to Great Lakes Cheese. As part of that proposal process, RG&E has been committed to meeting the electric service needs required by the new Great Lakes Cheese location," said Sarah Warren, Corporate Communications Manager at NYSEG. "RG&E also filed a petition to the New York Public Service Commission to provide additional economic development assistance to this project.
"While Great Lakes Cheese has chosen not to move forward with this project at this location, RG&E will remain committed to offering economic development support for projects and programs that benefit our customers and will help build a strong and healthy economy in the communities we serve for years to come.”
Great Lakes Cheese currently employs around 230 at the Cuba plant, and the new facility was expected to add 200 more employees. The company began searching for a new home more than a year ago after determining its Cuba facility had reached the end of its useful life.
Great Lakes Cheese examined about 80 development sites in Allegany County, looking at “every piece of flat land that’s available in Allegany County” hoping to find a suitable location nearby to keep its current workforce intact. It eventually settled on the Crossroads, an area long targeted by the county for development projects.
The company will revisit some secondary sites within the county after the Crossroads project fell apart.
“The reason we’re still looking at these areas is the company and the Epprecht family, who still owns a majority of GLC, they are very committed to trying to preserve the jobs of our existing employees at that location,” said Wilkinson. “That’s the main driver. Otherwise if you were any typical corporation, you definitely wouldn’t be trying to put all this effort into trying to find somewhere (nearby).
“All of the sites in Allegany County have their flaws," added Wilkinson. "Maybe we can live with 10 of them, but when it goes up to 20 or 25 and we’re talking tens of billions of dollars and a schedule that can’t be maintained, at some point it becomes too much. That’s what happened at the Crossroads.”
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Allegany County will have competition for the new plant. Wilkinson said the company is still debating how broad the search will expand geographically, but Western New York remains part of the scope.
The timetable to make a decision is being measured in weeks.
“Some triggers have already been pulled, so we don’t have a lot of time to think about it,” said Wilkinson.
The Great Lakes Cheese manufacturing facility on Haskell Road in Cuba produces mozzarella and provolone and is home to award winning string cheese as well. 'Pursuing all avenues' to keep GLC in Allegany County Allegany County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Craig Clark has been working with Great Lakes Cheese throughout the process. Clark said the company's risk analysis for the Crossroads site swung too far against the project.
“We’re disappointed, obviously. The IDA board and the county is disappointed the site didn’t work out,” said Clark. “We’re still committed to working with them on developing an Allegany County site. They’re still committed to looking at the region, including Allegany County. That was their preferred site, there’s no doubt about it because that would keep all their people in Cuba still employed. We’re still working with them on a potential siting in Allegany County.”
State Senator George Borrello said Tuesday he is “pursuing all avenues” to keep Great Lakes Cheese in Allegany County. Borrello indicated conversations have been initiated at the “highest levels of state government” as to what additional assistance the state can provide.
“I think it makes good business sense for Great Lakes Cheese,” Borrello said. “There are a lot of challenges out there when it comes to workforce, infrastructure and supply chain. They have the workforce already in Allegany County and they have a good and consistent supply chain. For me, it’s a good business decision for them to remain in Allegany County.
“Preserving the jobs is critically important," Borrello added. "There’s also the dynamic of the dairy industry that supports that plant and is also supported by the plant. That’s an important part of this.”
At full capacity, the new facility would double current milk consumption from 2 to 4 million gallons per day, supporting 600 farm jobs in the region's agricultural community. The project has the support of the Upstate Niagara Cooperative and Dairy Farmers of America.
Local agriculture was not united in favor of the plant, however. The proposed site sits on 269 acres of farmland owned by Charlie Bares of Mallards Dairy, who refused to sell the property. The IDA pursued eminent domain to acquire the land and the issue remained unresolved when Great Lakes Cheese decided to pursue a different site. Several protests in favor of Bares and his property rights were held outside the county courthouse in Belmont.
Wilkinson said the dispute over eminent domain did not ultimately play a major role in the company’s decision.
“That was an approach the IDA had put forth to attempt to keep the company in that local area,” said Wilkinson. “The eminent domain in itself wasn’t a deciding factor.”
The 200 new jobs at the plant were expected to double payroll in the county to around $21 million annually. Allegany County legislators reached by The Spectator on Tuesday declined to comment on the decision to shift away from the Crossroads. In March, the legislature voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting the proposal as well as the use of eminent domain to acquire the land.
The proposal called for on-site packaging and distribution facilities, employee parking, access roads, and related utility infrastructure, such as a 50,000 square-foot wastewater treatment plant. In addition to new factory and farm jobs, construction was expected to create an average of 240 jobs from 2021-2023, with a peak workforce of 480. Clark said the cheese factory would result in more than $1 billion in total investment in Western New York over the next 20 years.
“It’s probably the biggest thing that’s happened in the county economically in my lifetime in one fell swoop,” Legislator Dwight “Mike” Healy (R-Belmont) said in March.
Chris Potter can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413.