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Invest Buffalo Niagara revamps goals to go along with its new name

The new name is fine, but what’s most encouraging is that Invest Buffalo Niagara – formerly known as Buffalo Niagara Enterprise – is changing its approach to attracting companies to Western New York.

It’s becoming a more targeted strategy, and one that could help the region become better at attracting the smaller businesses that don’t draw big public investments.

The changes come as the region awakens from a decades-long economic slumber. It was roused with the help of significant government investment, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, and that change in performance and outlook caused the leaders of the BNE to retrench. A new day called for a new approach.

The most significant change is that instead of targeting site selectors and other economic development officials, the group will now focus on attracting investment in specific sectors, such as agribusiness, clean technologies and advanced manufacturing. That precisely matches the region’s strengths, especially given the pending arrival of SolarCity, which will be the Western Hemisphere’s largest solar panel manufacturing plant.

Invest Buffalo Niagara also plans to focus on attracting small to midsized companies, with no more than 50 employees. David W. Anderson, a board member of Invest Buffalo Niagara, said he believes that is critical.

Anderson, the president and CEO of HealthNow, said he was surprised upon arriving here from California that this region focused so heavily on attracting giant prizes like SolarCity and IBM, which is also coming here as part of the Buffalo Billion, and so little on the smaller companies that are the building blocks of a durable economic base.

“We’re too reliant, in my opinion, on large projects with public money,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to get the 20-employee company to come here.”

That’s where Invest Buffalo Niagara is now planning to focus its efforts, and it makes sense, especially given that the area is already benefiting from the giant projects that require Albany’s attention. Invest Buffalo Niagara is retooling its systems to accommodate that new approach.

It plans to redesign its website and to produce a new economic development guide that better highlights the economic and demographic data that it has compiled. Next month, it plans to publish a Buffalo Niagara Relocation Guide focusing on two of the region’s most potent but least-known assets: its high quality of life and comparatively low cost of living.

All in all, it’s a strong and forward-looking reconsideration of the organization’s mission. The new name does a good job of encapsulating that change, but it’s the change that holds the most potential for the continued good fortunes of Western New York.