By Howard Zemsky
Those of us who have lived in Buffalo for any length of time know that the positive changes to the economy, and our outlook toward the future, have been profound. Five years ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo introduced the Buffalo Billion. It was the promise of a new beginning and one that quickly became a reality.
The proof is everywhere you look: Canalside visitors have increased more than tenfold since 2010; RiverBend is beginning to ramp up what will be over a thousand direct jobs; unemployment is down while property values are up; new businesses are starting; and millennials are choosing to stay or move back to Buffalo.
Now, the governor has introduced Phase II of the Buffalo Billion. The $500 million plan builds on the region’s core economic development principles of revitalization, innovation and workforce development.
Phase II connects the dots between the region’s suburbs, downtowns and waterfronts. A new light rail plan will extend to Amherst, and a new Canalside station at DL&W in downtown Buffalo will make it easier for people to get to jobs, to school and to the waterfront.
Once people get to the waterfront, thanks to Phase II’s Buffalo Blueway, they will be able to enjoy an expanded network of access points that will connect more visitors to Buffalo’s cultural and natural assets along its waterways.
The tide of prosperity must also rise in the neighborhoods that have been hit hard by economic blight. The East Side Revitalization Initiative focuses on the major East Side corridors including Northland, which will become known for its “manufacturing campus” and will both attract businesses and train workers for the jobs of the future.
And to further support job growth and skill development, a $10 million Workforce Development Fund will be established to ensure that the region’s workforce can keep up with growing job opportunity.
Now imagine the circle of economic transformation expanding and taking in the first-ring suburbs. The former site of Bethlehem Steel will be brought into the circle with the acquisition of 250 acres of land for future development. By expanding the circle even further to Niagara Falls, we will acquire strategic parcels near Niagara Falls State Park to attract more visitors, extend their stays, induce more private investment and create more jobs.
The 43North business competition has become an absolute force for the region, and under Phase II will have another five years to attract the best and brightest to Buffalo. Many of those entrepreneurs work in the life sciences, which will be fueled by a new Strategic Investment Fund, to better commercialize the intellectual property that is being created.
Many of us only dreamed Buffalo could ever experience such a comeback. Phase II builds on the progress we have achieved and is further proof for workers, dreamers, students and businesses that there has never been a better time to get on board and be a part of the region’s extraordinary transformation.
Howard Zemsky is president and CEO of Empire State Development.