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This is not your father's Buffalo Niagara

When did you form your opinions about the Buffalo Niagara region?

If you have lived here your entire life, you probably think of the region as it was when you were in your teens or early 20's, the age when you became aware of all the social and economic dynamics at play here.

If you are in your 50's or older, you might think of the region as primarily a manufacturing center, where most of the jobs are tied to factories, and most of the workers go home from work dirty and tired.

If you are much younger, or a new arrival, you probably see things a little differently. For you, the local economy is more diverse, more in tune with the service sector. And you're right.

During the decade from 2000 to 2010, the hottest service sector businesses -- business services, education, healthcare and hospitality -- have added 22,500 jobs, for a total of 265,500. The traditional blue collar industries -- manufacturing, transportation and utilities - have lost 37,600 jobs, to 65,300.

Clearly, this is not your parents' Buffalo Niagara region.

The area is emerging as a quality center for affordable professional services, and leading that charge is the growth of the financial sector. Solid local banks and a growing collection of back-office operations -- sophisticated service centers and call centers -- employ more than 24,000 people. And their success serves as an attraction for others to set up shop here. As one expert said, when a company knows they can find a deep pool of talented workers, it takes a closer look at the area.

High-quality companies like M&T Bank Corp. and fast-growing First Niagara Financial Corp. -- both in the nation's top 25 -- put Buffalo on the map as a low-key, sophisticated headquarters town. Financial giants like HSBC Bank USA and KeyBank draw national and international attention to the region. And service centers operated by the likes of Bank of America, Citigroup and Geico employ thousands more and showcase for corporate site selectors the region's quiet competence, available at bargain prices.

In this, our 20th edition of Prospectus, we highlight some of the region's premier companies and what they are doing to transition into the future, when education and computers take the place of blast furnaces and assembly lines.


Special thanks to Deputy Business Editor David Robinson and Trey Bankhead for their expertise producing this section.