Brian Castner left Buffalo after high school in 1995, and he didn't look back.
"I felt like I was trying to escape," he said. "My parents and grandparents were always talking about how no one could find a job here."
Most of his high school friends left, too, he said, because the city didn't offer young graduates any opportunities.
Over the next 12 years, he joined the Air Force, married his college girlfriend, and moved to Las Vegas. But he and his wife tired of the heat and the lack of community in Nevada and craved a place where they could enjoy the outdoors.
Still, Castner refused to consider coming back to Buffalo.
"I just couldn't get past what I used to think of it," he said.
Instead, the couple listed qualities they were looking for in a new home: places to ski, good kayaking, proximity to universities and strong grammar schools. Then they researched how cities all over the United States stacked up.
They couldn't settle on a place until his wife, who grew up in Michigan, convinced him to look at Buffalo. A few months later, they bought a house here, which they moved into this week.
Castner's reluctance to come back home is one of the biggest challenges facing organizers of Buffalo Old Home Week, a promotional event that tries to bring expatriates back to the city.
"We want people to change their conversation about Buffalo," Jessica Beigaj said. Events like the job fair this Friday and neighborhood tours this weekend aim to do just that.
That the organization even exists, Castner said, is a sign of the times.
"When I left you could have never held something like this," he said.
But over time, Buffalo has gotten better, he said, building a community of committed residents interested in preserving the city's history and figuring out how to celebrate its attributes.
"The city finally realized manufacturing was fading and it moved on," his wife said.
The Castners acknowledged they had an easier time than most. Castner works as a consultant teaching classes to military personnel around the country. His wife, a nurse, was able to find a job in part because there is a shortage of nurses around the country.
Still, Castner said, former residents should take a second look at the city.
"If they look at Buffalo objectively, they'll decide it has what they want," he said. "They just didn't realize it."