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SUFFERN, NY-Avon Products Inc. hopes to obtain all its necessary approvals by the second quarter of 2003 to begin construction on a new $93-million research and development facility at the site of its storied Suffern plant which has been in operation here since 1897.

The new 223,000-sf research and development facility will cost $93.6 million to build and will require the demolition of the existing 375,000-sf Suffern plant. The initiative is part of an overall $100-million program by the New York City-based company to enhance its research and development programs.

While the company hopes to build the new research and development facility in Suffern, Avon is moving forward with phasing out its current manufacturing operations at the property. The company has begun shifting most of its 260 manufacturing employees from Suffern to a facility in Springdale, Ohio. That move is expected to be completed by the summer of 2003.

In relation to the development of the proposed research and development facility, Avon has already received an inducement from the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency in November that granted the cosmetics products firm a $3.6 million sales tax exemption in connection with the project. The New York State Empire State Development Corp. has also offered a grant to the company of $650,000 if it moves forward with the new research and development facility in Suffern.

According to Victor Beaudet, an Avon spokesman, the company is now engaged in the approval process with the Village of Suffern to obtain the necessary site plan and zoning variance approvals so that the project can proceed.

“Avon is planning to build a new research and development facility at the existing Suffern site, provided that all the necessary incentives and site plan and zoning variances are approved,” he says.

Beaudet adds that Avon hopes to begin construction on the three-story research and development complex sometime in 2003 with completion expected in 2005. The facility, if built, would serve as the company’s sole worldwide research and development complex. The firm operates a total of 17 manufacturing plants worldwide. If it moves forward with the new Suffern facility, the 274 research and development facility workers currently working at Suffern will remain on site and an additional 70 workers will be added in the next 10 years, according to paperwork filed with Rockland County.

Holly Freedman, president of the Rockland County Economic Development Corp., says she is hopeful that the company will receive all the necessary approvals so that it can build its new facility. “They have plans. It is being worked on by them just about every day,” she notes.

Freedman says that the proposed new research and development initiative “was the good news of what had started out as a bad new story,” noting that the firm had announced its program to shift its manufacturing operations out of Suffern before it unveiled its new plans for its Rockland County operations.

The company, which has been in operation in Suffern for 105 years, has apparently been wooed by competing markets, specifically the state of New Jersey.

In a letter dated Sept. 9, 2002 to the chairman of the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency, Chris Schaffert, director of project engineering for Avon Products, stated, “Avon shareholders expect the overall package will be competitive with incentives offered in New Jersey and surrounding communities so that it is possible to redevelop the Suffern site to be the new Research and Development Center. Clearly, without and but for the Rockland County Industrial Development Agency participation and leadership in the incentive process, the redevelopment option would not be possible and lower cost alternatives would provide the better opportunity.”

Beaudet refuses to discuss what incentives the state of New Jersey has offered the cosmetics firm and stressed that the company has filed plans in the Village of Suffern and intends to build the complex there if all approvals and other incentives are granted.

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