Katie Couric sees Buffalo ‘building something pretty unique” - The Buffalo News
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Katie Couric sees Buffalo ‘building something pretty unique”

Katie Couric, the global news anchor at Yahoo News, wanted to do a series on cities on the rise.

“Someone suggested Buffalo, and I said that sounds like a wonderful idea. Can we do it in July?” she laughed.

Instead, Couric and her film crew on Tuesday braved the coldest day of the winter so far to highlight the city’s revival for “Rebuilding America.” The series will feature short, 10-minute pieces on six cities on the rebound, with Buffalo’s kicking off the series on Jan. 15.

Other cities under consideration are Pittsburgh, Oakland, New Orleans, Detroit and Houston.

“I really didn’t realize the renaissance that is happening in Buffalo until I started to look into it,” said Couric, best known as a longtime co-host of NBC’s “Today” show and former anchor for “CBS Evening News.” “I think most people are unaware, and that’s why I’m excited to bring the story to a national audience.”

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Photos: Katie Couric in Buffalo

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Couric said her schedule allowed her to spend one day in Buffalo, but her producer arrived earlier and will stay another couple of days. Couric also said she has read a lot about Buffalo’s revival.

“Luckily and fortunately for Buffalo, it has gotten a lot of positive media coverage,” Couric said. “You do get a sense of the city coming back in a really exciting way.”

“I’m hoping this will possibly be a role model for other cities that are trying to re-energize and attract more people, and make more opportunities for young people.”

Couric’s stops included the West Side Bazaar, where she had a chance to see immigrant businesses; 43North, where she learned about the city’s business innovation efforts; and Canalside, where the waterfront has become an engine for growth and a source of civic pride.

At the West Side Bazaar, Couric talked to vendors, sampled foods and huddled with Ben Bissell, executive director of the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, which operates the bazaar.

“I have to say it was a very moving experience for me to see so much multiculturalism in Buffalo, and to see that so many refugees and immigrants have been embraced and are finding a lot of solidarity and comfort and are able to share their cultures with longtime Buffalo residents, and how it is really transforming the West Side in a way that is extremely positive,” Couric said.

“I think at a time when there is so much negativity about immigrants and about refugees, Buffalo should really be proud of the way they have welcomed and embraced immigrant communities, as far as I can tell,” she said.

Couric and her team then visited 43North and interviewed John Gavigan, its executive director, and the founders of several of the winning companies from the 43North business competition.

Peter Burakowski, a spokesman for 43North, said a Yahoo News producer reached out after seeing coverage of Buffalo’s revival and the business plan contest in the New York Times and USA Today.

“This is a huge megaphone that Katie Couric carries and Yahoo carries to trumpet the rebirth of our city,” Burakowski said.

While Couric’s visit will shine a national spotlight on the city’s revival, it has become a familiar story to Western New Yorkers, who already have seen this resurgence playing out downtown, in real estate and the local economy.

For example, Buffalo Niagara has seen $5 billion in commercial real estate activity start or continue over the past three years, according to Buffalo News research.

The most prominent projects include the $900 million SolarCity solar-panel factory taking shape in South Buffalo, the $200 million HarborCenter at Canalside and two massive projects underway on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus: the $375 million Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the $267 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.

On the residential side, the region’s housing market maintained its record-setting pace into the fall. Closed home sales rose again in October, up 4.8 percent to 1,212, the highest level for that month since at least 2001, according to the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.

For the first 10 months of the year, sales were up 7.9 percent to 9,450. If that pace continues, the housing market will set a record for total transactions for a full year, beating even the peak of 11,138 set in 2007.

The region’s revival is evident in the job market, too.

Between November 2014 and last November, the region added 6,900 jobs, pushing the total number of jobs in Erie and Niagara counties to the highest level in more than 25 years, the state Labor Department reported last month.

The region’s steady job growth has continued for 38 straight months – the longest stretch of uninterrupted growth since 1990, according to state data. The private sector, which excludes government jobs, has grown for 67 straight months.

Looking at the region’s unemployment rate, November’s rate of 4.9 percent was the lowest for any November since 2007, before the Great Recession, and it was the second-lowest for any month since the beginning of 2008.

The unemployment rate has fallen steadily for more than 3½ years since unemployment peaked at 9.4 percent in February 2012, according to the state Labor Department.

Couric isn’t the only national figure to take an interest in Buffalo’s revival. AOL founder and venture capitalist Steve Case brought his Rise of the Rest Tour to Buffalo in late September, when he visited startup companies and business developments and handed out $100,000 to two winners of a pitch competition.

“We’re the required stop – the coveted place to be,” quipped Pamm Lent, Empire State Development spokeswoman.

Buffalo is also becoming a more desirable place for young people to want to live.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who moved away and are now coming back to Buffalo because now it’s like a trending place to live. I’m really happy to be a part of this,” said Michelle Holler, West Side Bazaar’s manager. “There is definitely a resurgence happening in Buffalo.”

Jennifer Hunt enjoyed a vegetarian combo from Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine with husband Marc Kiviniemi as Couric spoke to nearby vendors. Hunt said she was concerned parts of the city have not shared the benefits others have.

“We’ve lived here for eight years, and seen a lot of positive change,” Hunt said. “It would be great if the positive change extended across all of Buffalo and more on the East Side as well.”

At 43North, the press gathered in one area, while casually dressed workers in a large, open workspace were oblivious to the distraction.

Dan Magnuszewski, founder and CTO of ACV Auctions, and before that the managing director of Z80 Labs, said Buffalo’s knowledge economy has grown by leaps and bounds in the past several years.

“I’ve been involved in the startup community since the mid-2000s. There was a big grass-roots movement around 2010 of technologists and entrepreneurs, but at that point there was really no attention from anywhere other than the group of us who wanted to make something happen,” Magnuszewski said.

Now, he said, the government and other entities were supporting their efforts with funding and services.

Couric said her overall impression of Buffalo had made her “an unofficial booster” for Buffalo.

“It’s really nice to be able tell a positive feel-good story about people coming together, and building something pretty unique.”

email: swatson@buffnews.com and msommer@buffnews.com

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