Is it different this time? That’s the question – the really big question – many people have about the current Buffalo renaissance. Despite the cranes and the celebrations, longtime observers might be excused for thinking: “Haven’t we been through this before?”
Back in the early 1980s, the Griffin administration discovered Urban Development Action Grants and, with the help of some developers, went on a building spree that saw the remaking of the Theater District and other projects.
When the building was done, the air leaked out of the balloon, and the local economy sputtered.
So what’s different this time?
First, this time the state is firmly behind the effort. Buffalo’s economy already is linked to Albany through state money and state jobs, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made it a personal goal to revive Western New York. He has pledged $1 billion and thrown his political might behind it. That’s a lot of love.
Second, there is solid planning behind the effort. In the past, the most aggressive insiders got the loot. This time the Western New York Economic Development Council has devised a detailed plan to build on the region’s intrinsic strengths – including advanced manufacturing, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and tourism – and it is directing the money to those areas.
If this smacks a little of a command economy where the government decides which industries succeed, we might best just hold our noses and go with it. What’s the alternative?
And third, a new crop of leaders are filling spots across the economic spectrum, from college campuses to factories to start-ups. This group is not encumbered by past false starts. These folks ask, “Why not?” rather than offering the defeatist, “We already tried that.”
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, young people are digging in. More and more, it seems young people are fighting to stay here. Drawn by the lifestyle, the cost and the camaraderie, they are taking jobs and fighting to make it work.
The final ingredient needed to make this stick is population growth. A new economy is being built. We need people, more people, to keep it going.
So what can each of us do? Very simple. Do our jobs a little better, run our businesses a little better and know we are all part of it.
Just grab an oar and pull. We may never get another chance like this.