Even after losing $1 million in funding from Erie County, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise business development initiative still is on solid footing and making steady progress in helping new and established businesses expand here, the group's top officials said Thursday.
"We think we have a solid foundation," Randall L. Clark, the group's chairman, said Thursday during the BNE's annual update on its efforts.
The loss of Erie County funding during the ongoing budget crisis left a big hole in the group's budget that it was mostly able to patch by bringing in 17 new investors for the initiative and convincing almost half of its biggest contributors to put up even more money, he said.
As a result, the BNE now gets 90 percent of the funding for its $2.9 million annual budget from the private sector. Similar initiatives in other parts of the country typically get about half of their funding from government sources, said Thomas A. Kucharski, the BNE's president.
Kucharski also said the BNE, now in its sixth year, is steadily increasing its involvement in projects that bring new jobs to the region or protect positions that already are here. The group aided 36 projects during the fiscal year that ended in June, resulting in $229 million in new investment and the creation and retention of more than 4,700 jobs.
"The organization has increased its investment base. It's also increased its number of wins, which is the important thing," Clark said. "The economic situation in this community is not terribly conducive to that kind of thing, so I think what we've accomplished is impressive."
Most of the projects involved companies that already had operations in the Buffalo Niagara region, which Kucharski said is typical of this type of business development initiative. Those retention projects accounted for three-quarters of the group's successful efforts, while the BNE also worked on nine projects that brought new businesses to the region.
In all, those 36 projects created nearly 1,950 new jobs, BNE statistics showed.
Kucharski said the BNE's efforts to become a one-stop shop for businesses seeking information about the region and the economic development programs available here has helped make it easier for companies to learn about the region and what it has to offer.
"We now have a system that works," he said. "Everybody knows their role. We work together."
The group also plans to continue focusing its efforts on targeted industries that offer the potential for growth and match the region's resources and expertise. Those targeted industries range from customer service centers and advanced manufacturing to Canadian business expansion, life sciences, logistics and hospitality and tourism.