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'Made in Lackawanna' hitting a manufacturing sweet spot

Dilapidated buildings with windmills in the background.
Mike Desmond
Florida company Sucro imagines this land on the former Bethlehem Steel site as a major sugar refinery.

Sometime this fall, if you look closely at your sugar box or at those little bags for your coffee, you may see a label saying, "Made in Lackawanna." A Florida company is well underway turning former Bethlehem Steel plant buildings into a sugar refinery.

It's a $20 million project from Sucro Sourcing out of Coral Gables, FL. Millions more in federal dollars through a county agency will install water and sewer lines across the old steel plant site.

The sugar facility is most visible for the giant white plastic dome that is already there, flanked by enormous old steel plant steel and brick buildings, under renovation for Sucro. They are very close to the old dock area, which made the project feasible.

The giant ship canal once brought shiploads of iron ore to the plant. Now, boats will travel that same canal to deliver raw sugar to be refined.

Sucro Vice President Eli Cohen said the company saw business opportunities with local companies.

The inside of a dilapidated building.
Mike Desmond
One of the buildings being converted into a sugar refinery.

"We saw a gap in the marketplace, here, locally," Cohen said. "Everyone's bringing sugar in, either from New York or from the Midwest, and we thought there's a good opportunity for us here and having water access was critical to us. But we feel there's a viable opportunity with these local manufacturers, here, to work with them and be able to supply their needs."

A Toronto native, Cohen said he knows this area. The company plans to start with 50 workers and plans to grow, initially refining 300,000 metric tons of raw sugar into your morning coffee and muffin.

"For us, it was an absolute no-brainer when we looked at this location and the infrastructure already in place," he said. "It's still quite a bit of an undertaking to completely kind of take the old materials and equipment out, but it's been well worth it and I think it's been rewarding for everyone."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.