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AN ACTIVIST APPROACH TO SAVING JOBS

Management and labor came together at the 11th hour to keep Trico's remaining operations in Buffalo, wiping away the threat of yet another loss of vital manufacturing jobs. There were many close to the situation who thought the company's intention to move to the Texas-Mexico border was a done deal.

State, city and county agencies shaped a package of attractive economic incentives that convinced the company to stay in its hometown. Meanwhile, leaders of UAW Local 2100 worked hard in negotiating an approved three-year contract, an integral part of this operation to preserve what remains of Trico.

While we applaud the efforts of everyone who worked so hard to save the 240 Trico jobs -- economic development officials, management and especially the United Auto Workers -- the question remains: Did it have to come down to a last-minute rescue? As in so many past cases, this was an instance of economic-development agencies reacting to a crisis.

As we have said before, area economic-development officials need to develop energetic proactive policies that stay ahead of the business curve, that identify problems and promote growth early on, before business problems mushroom into a crisis.

There are, thankfully, some signs that economic development officials are beginning to realize that an early-warning-and-intervention system is vital to keep Western New York jobs from migrating to other parts of the country. The newly formed NYWest Corridor -- a coalition of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., the Amherst Industrial Development Agency and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency -- plans proactive initiatives to assist local business.

These three development groups are now working more closely to market the entire area, not simply part of it.

Sensibly, they are starting at the beginning. In coming weeks, NYWest will inventory all businesses of more than minimal size in the area. It will send out surveys of basic data that also ask about business plans and any problems. The data will be put into a data base and analyzed, with a report completed by year's end.

Besides the improved level of cooperation among Buffalo, Amherst and Erie County, the important point here is recognition that the coalition must reach out to contact businesses about their plans and problems. Only with that basic knowledge can these development efforts ever become proactive, anticipating problems and tackling them when they are more manageable rather than learning about them in crisis.

The Trico salvage and the NYWest coalition initiative share at least one insight: The best jobs are those already here, because they already provide work and wages for employees, along with payrolls and leadership for the community.

Keeping those jobs here, their employers happy, and nourishing expansion are as important an assignment as bringing in new ones.