Where do you see yourself living 20 years from now?
If your first answer is someplace other than Western New York, you are not alone.
Many adolescents feel that the career opportunities in the Buffalo Niagara region are very limited and not suitable to them, making this an unlikely place to start and build a fulfilling career. So, many young people believe that after college, they’ll have no choice but to call someplace else home.
Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, the president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, strongly disagrees with that assessment. Her organization is a privately funded, economic development group and the largest regional chamber of commerce in Western New York.
"I actually think the job outlook [for young people] in this region is excellent, for a number of reasons," Gallagher-Cohen said. "First, we anticipate that a significant number of workers will be retiring in the next decade, and at the same time we project a great deal of job growth in certain target industries which will create a real need for young professionals. So, it’s really an exciting time to live here."
According the Buffalo Niagara Labor Market Assessments, within the next decade, more than 137,600 workers in the Buffalo Niagara labor force will be at or over the age of 65. When these workers retire, one fifth of all the jobs in Western New York will be unoccupied.
These positions will need to be filled and will give young people the opportunity for success in our region, something many feel they will be without if they attempt to build a career here in Buffalo Niagara.
"We’re spending a great deal of time and energy to make sure that the talent pool lines up with the employment opportunities in the years ahead." Gallagher-Cohen said. "We’re working with education and training providers to ensure that they understand the opportunities that are going to present themselves, and educating young people to prepare them for the pursuit of those opportunities."
For many years, Buffalo was a top manufacturing center, with the production of steel leading the way. Since the 1980s, the area has struggled to make the transition from heavy industry to the new economies of high-tech, health care, light manufacturing and service sectors.
But Buffalo Niagara seems to have turned the corner and begun to head down the right path.
In Western New York, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership has identified seven "target industries" because of their prospects for growth in the region. Many of these industries offer the kinds of opportunities that young people feel they are unable to pursue here.
The target industries include advanced manufacturing, clean tech, agribusiness, tourism, advanced business services, logistics and life sciences.
"The target industries really represent the growth opportunities," Gallagher-Cohen said. "They are sectors that are adding jobs, which then drives economic growth, because the economy only grows when you have more private sector jobs."
A private sector job is a job that is not controlled by the government; these jobs are the ones that help our economy to thrive.
"We as a community need to be very mindful that we need to create opportunities for people to progress in their careers so they can stay in this area and build their lives here." Gallagher-Cohen said.
"Private sector job creation is the key that unlocks that door. We’ve got to have attractive career opportunities if we want to keep young people here. People may love living here, but they’re not going to stay if they can’t advance here. The good news is that there many excellent opportunities in this region and many more on the horizon."
As Gallagher-Cohen suggests, the needle is already starting to move in the right direction as the rebirth of the city of Buffalo has advanced.
The seven target industries now represent 40 percent of the total employment here in Western New York, fed at least in part by graduates from this area’s many colleges and universities.
"The great news is that our population of adults ages 20-34 is not only increasing, but we actually have more people in that demographic as a percentage of our population than the national average." Gallagher-Cohen, said.
"In my mind, what that means is younger people are finding opportunities here and they’re staying here, and we do know that we do have some people in that age group moving back [to Buffalo from other locations]."
Gallagher-Cohen believes the outlook for Western New York’s employment picture is bright and that young people can feel much more confident in their ability to continue to call this area home when they enter their working years.
"Young people have a really unique opportunity in high school to explore this [careers] and to begin to understand what they like. Use that experience to figure out where you want to be and what you want to do. If you want to live in Buffalo or in the surrounding regions, really dig deep into these sectors that have growth opportunity because those sectors will not only provide an opportunity for a job for someone right when they graduate, but a long, prosperous career here in Western New York."
Jessica DePalma is a freshman at Nardin Academy.