Don't underestimate the Buffalo Niagara region.
Despite its well-documented struggles, the region still packs a pretty good economic punch.
In fact, if the Buffalo Niagara region were a state, its economy would be bigger than Delaware's, or for that matter, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Maine and Rhode Island. In all, there are 13 entire states that can't match the Buffalo Niagara region's economic output.
Remember that the next time some smart aleck from Honolulu cracks a Buffalo joke.
If you feel like thumping your chest with an international twist, try this: Our economy packs more of a punch than some entire countries, from Morocco and Cuba to Vietnam and Slovakia, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. And Buffalo still ranks as one of the 100 biggest economies in the world (actually, we're No. 99).
The point of the report was to show how 361 U.S. metro areas play a huge role in the nation's economy, accounting for more than 86 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. But it also offered a glimpse at how the Buffalo Niagara region stacks up against other cities -- and even other countries -- in the race to get ahead.
"Many of our metros are still struggling with global competitive pressures that will challenge us in the coming decade," said Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick in a statement accompanying the report.
That certainly is true of the Buffalo Niagara region, with its auto plants under pressure as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Delphi Corp. struggle with staggering losses in their domestic manufacturing operations.
Aside from its fun facts about the overall size of the Buffalo Niagara region's economy, the mayors' report reinforces the notion that the area has struggled to keep up with most of the nation's other cities.
The report, prepared by economics consultant Global Insight, ranks Buffalo as the nation's 41st biggest metro area, sandwiched between Nashville, Tenn., and Richmond, Va., with an economic output of $56.1 billion.
Within New York, Buffalo still packs the second-biggest economic punch, trailing only New York City and topping all other Upstate metro areas. The region accounts for 6.3 percent of all economic activity in the state, just ahead of Rochester, which makes up 5.6 percent of the New York economy.
Yet the region's 4.3 percent average annual growth rate from 1994 to 2004 put Buffalo in the bottom quarter of all major metro areas for economic growth, ranking 283rd out of 361 cities. And our growth was less than half as fast as the rate of expansion in the nation's three fastest-growing metro areas -- St. George, Utah; Las Vegas; and Naples-Marco Island, Fla.
The bright spot is that the region's growth from 2002 to 2004 was a little bit better than average. While the region's 4 percent growth rate during that three-year period put the Buffalo Niagara region in the middle of the pack, ranking 161st among all metro areas, it was slightly better than the 3.6 percent growth rate by the U.S. economy during that period.
Yet Global Insight's economists estimate that the region lost that momentum last year, growing at a sub-par 2.7 percent pace, roughly a quarter slower than the 3.7 percent rate of expansion nationally.
We also keep adding jobs at an excruciatingly slow pace, with the 0.1 percent growth rate last year putting the Buffalo Niagara region in the bottom 15 percent among the nation's metro areas.
So while two-thirds of the nation's metro areas by the end of last year had recovered all of the jobs they'd lost since the 2001 recession, we still have 10,500 fewer jobs than we did in 2000. And the report projects that the region won't regain all of those jobs until 2013, after all but 50 of the nation's metro areas have recovered.