Once again, a national ranking of U.S. cities has painted Buffalo in a negative light. In February, Forbes magazine ranked America's most miserable cities and Buffalo had the dubious distinction of finding a place at number 8 on the top 10 list. If the Queen City can take any comfort, it's that it had the same ranking on the 2009 list, without moving up the ranks.
So, why has Buffalo two years running made the top 10 list of America's most miserable cities?
Forbes' "misery measure" takes into account unemployment, taxes, commute times, violent crime and how a city's pro sports teams have fared over the past two years. It also factors in two indexes that gauge weather and Superfund pollution sites. In addition, the Forbes ranking considers corruption based on convictions of public officials.
The Forbes ranking points out a long-term trend for Buffalo that doesn't come as any surprise for those of us who have witnessed Buffalo's decline over the decades, namely that the local population has "fallen more than 50 percent over the past half-century as the industrial base waned." That is a staggering statistic on the massive exodus of people and businesses from our area.
Things could be worse. We could live in Cleveland. Our neighbor to the southwest took the top spot in the Forbes ranking as the most miserable city in the nation. In this year's ranking, Cleveland had poor ratings across the board and was the only city that fell in the bottom half of the rankings in all nine of Forbes' misery categories.
Nevertheless, Buffalo and Cleveland have a lot in common with each other. Both are among America's poorest cities, and there are lessons the Queen City can learn from Cleveland. One thing our Lake Erie neighbor is doing right that Buffalo would be wise to take notice of is Cleveland's boom of worker-owned businesses linked by cooperative financing.
On that front, Cleveland's major success story is the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which has 50 employees and opened last year. The laundry is the first of a group of employee-owned cooperatives in Cleveland's Greater University Circle area, where some of the country's richest nonprofit institutions are located in the middle of some of the poorest urban neighborhoods with more than 30 percent poverty rates. Over the next few years, Cleveland plans to have nine other worker-owned businesses up and running that will employ between 500 and 600 people in those neighborhoods.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and city economic leaders need to buy into the cooperative business model to help transform Buffalo's downtrodden neighborhoods. The way to grow community wealth is with community ownership of businesses by assisting employees who want to buy businesses they work at and encouraging retiring owners to sell to them.
Greg Slabodkin lives in Kenmore and is head of marketing communications for a telecom equipment manufacturer.