With more than three of every 10 Buffalo residents living in poverty, Assemblyman Sean Ryan is calling for the creation of what essentially would be a Buffalo-focused employment agency that would connect city residents with job opportunities.
The state-run employment clearinghouse would build a pool of potential applicants for job openings, creating a database that companies could access to identify city residents looking for work and learn about their work experience, education and qualifications.
Companies receiving tax breaks and other public subsidies for projects within the City of Buffalo would be required to participate in the proposed Hiring and Investing in Real Employment center. Ryan’s proposal would mandate that candidates within the center’s hiring pool be given preference over equally qualified candidates who are not part of the center’s applicant pool.
“If it’s a high-quality program, I’m confident companies would want to use what, essentially, is a free employment agency,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the hiring clearinghouse concept has been used successfully in cities such as Washington, D.C., Boston and Newark, N.J., as a way of helping impoverished city residents learn about and be considered for job openings that otherwise might be filled by applicants from wealthier city neighborhoods and the suburbs. Too often, Ryan said, residents in downtrodden neighborhoods never learn about job opportunities because they lack access to the Internet or private-sector employment agencies that companies often use to fill vacancies.
SolarCity, for instance, currently is assembling a pool of potential candidates for the hundreds of production jobs that it expects to create over the next few years at its South Park Avenue factory, which is being built with $750 million in state incentives. The company is assembling a list of candidates through an online screening process that it is coordinating through the state Labor Department.
“Without some deliberate policy, nothing is going to change, other than the people in some of the better-off ZIP codes are going to do better,” said Ryan, who is unveiling his proposal for the hiring center on Thursday.
The initiative comes at a time when job growth within the Buffalo Niagara region has been heating up. While the local job market still isn’t growing as fast as the rest of the country, the region has created new jobs this year at a pace that is more than double last year’s rate and is the strongest growth locally in more than 25 years, according to labor department data.
Ryan said the clearinghouse is especially needed now, with the Cuomo administration’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative poised to eventually bring thousands of jobs to the region at the SolarCity solar panel factory and other companies. The clearinghouse also would provide a source of potential workers for other manufacturers and businesses receiving tax breaks through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and other state and local agencies.
“It is time for a creative solution to help tackle sky-high poverty rates in Buffalo,” Ryan said.
The center would require $5 million in funding and would be operated by Empire State Development, Ryan said.
“As Buffalo continues to benefit from public dollars, it’s imperative that policies not empty rhetoric guide the way forward,” said the Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice. “HIRE Buffalo puts local people and our communities at the forefront of our revitalization, where they rightfully belong.”
The agency would be open to all city residents, but would focus on the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. To build the pool of job candidates, the center would hold neighborhood meetings to outline the initiative and could even have representatives go door-to-door to get the word out about the program, Ryan said.
“This all goes to the digital divide and people being without Internet,” he said.
To help narrow the skills gap among residents, who may lack the education and training needed to fill the positions that are coming open, the state is planning to bolster the region’s job training resources through one of its Buffalo Billion initiatives, but that effort is not expected to be ready to open during the next year. Companies frequently say many job candidates are eliminated from consideration because they lack basic education and technical skills or fail drug tests.
The initiative has the backing of several local religious leaders, including Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone. “As we celebrate the renaissance of Buffalo, we must remember that not everyone is caught up in this time of hope because of poverty, which is often the result of unemployment or underemployment,” he said. “We cannot neglect the moral imperative to assist those who are struggling to rise out of this poverty.”