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Buffalo compares well Review of economy is positive, but overall performance still weak

The most recent report on Buffalo's economy shows it to be one of the strongest-performing of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, based on area trends with which many Western New Yorkers are already familiar: reasonable and stable housing costs, low levels of foreclosures and, perhaps less known, relatively stable employment rates. Things are difficult here, but they could be -- and elsewhere they are -- worse.

The facts may not be surprising, but most of the region's residents, we suspect, have not put them together in a way that reveals Buffalo-Niagara to be the nation's fourth-best performing metropolitan area. That's encouraging, even if it represents more of a long-standing trend than any new development in our economy, which overall remains weak.

Indeed, our great advantage is that economic conditions here didn't take the beating that much of the rest of the country did during this recession. Housing prices never inflated here, so when the sub-prime crisis hit, leading the economy into crisis, Western New York largely was spared.

Meantime, although our employment rate dropped during the recession, it didn't trough as badly as it did in other, harder-hit areas of the country. While our region's employment level fell by 2.8 percent, the average drop for the 100 largest cities was 3.8 percent and the nation, as a whole, suffered a 4.1 percent average decline in employment.

All of this is relatively good news for Western New York, but as the economy begins to recover, the issues that held us back before remain in place: taxes, regulation, labor costs and wrongheaded ideas about our weather. Indeed, Albany threatens to make matters worse as it grapples with a cavernous deficit in the irresponsible budget it adopted in April.

That's especially troubling, because the region has some promising new developments in its economy. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is poised to become a prominent player in the region's financial picture. It could spark a new direction for Western New York.

Meanwhile, development at the city's waterfront nears a turning point, with Memorial Auditorium torn down and construction of a Bass Pro pending. That project is expected to draw other retailers and services to the new Canalside district, and start a new economic engine in the downtown area.

Many people in this area have been hurt by the gears of the "Great Recession," but in general, residents can be relieved that we have endured the worst of it with fewer consequences than other regions. They can also take heart in the prospects for improvement in our economy.

But they need to watch Albany, the way a pedestrian watches for pickpockets.

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