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On Labor Day, we pause to celebrate the workers so vital to WNY’s economy

The significance of labor, the concept and the people that Americans honor today, was demonstrated just last week in New York: When leaders of Athenex, the homegrown cancer-drug company, announced that they would start looking to expand somewhere other than Dunkirk, the highest levels of New York government took notice – and action.

Jobs matter, politically, economically, socially. They especially matter when they are involved in producing goods for which there is a thirsty market. The high-tech positions expected at Athenex may not be the hammer-swinging, rivet-tossing jobs that Labor Day originally celebrated, but they qualify as 21st century labor, nonetheless, and Albany wasn’t about to pay the price of losing the 900 manufacturing positions promised in Dunkirk.

Athenex is a specialty cancer drug company founded in Buffalo and headquartered on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. As part of his Buffalo Billion program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced earlier this year that the state would help it expand in Dunkirk, an economically stressed city south of Buffalo on Lake Erie.

But progress on the promise has been agonizingly and unacceptably slow. That prompted Athenex to announce that it would look elsewhere for opportunities, and that got the attention of the Cuomo administration, which responded in a helpful way before the day was out.

That’s how important labor is in this state, and in any state. The hard work of men and women – whether they are building highways or computers, manufacturing caps or cancer treatments – is the foundation of the American economy. It commands attention and respect. That’s what we honor this Labor Day, and in Western New York there is, at long last, much for workers to celebrate.

Athenex sprouted on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, itself a petrie dish of job creation. Buffalo’s health care economy has been expanding fast, with the development of the Conventus building, the Gates Vascular Institute, the expansion of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and more. That has created hundreds of jobs, from janitors to doctors to administrators. Soon, the University at Buffalo Medical School and the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital will move into the neighborhood.

The long-dormant Trico building, on the edge of the Medical Campus, is primed for revival, producing construction jobs and, among other aspects of the project, businesses to serve those who will live there and those who work on the Medical Campus.

New jobs are coming.

The same holds true for two other giant projects in Buffalo: the reuse of One Seneca Tower, where plans are still taking shape, and the redevelopment of the old AM&A’s department store, long vacant and deteriorating in the very heart of downtown Buffalo.

All three of those projects will create cleanup and construction jobs and will eventually lead to jobs in and around those buildings. And, more to today’s point, the work couldn’t be done without the labor of hard-working Western New Yorkers.

And there is more: As people move in to Buffalo to savor the vibrancy of city life, services crop up to meet their needs. Restaurants appear. Microbreweries open. Tourism opportunities develop at areas such as Canalside. Without labor, they fail.

So, while the nature of labor has changed over the decades, its central position in the lives of Americans, including Western New Yorkers, has never changed. Needs may change as the pace of automation picks up, but even those developments create the need for labor.

It may gain or lose attention as social and political winds shift, but it never goes out of style and is always due the respect it gets today.

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