The Buffalo Billion initiative has a great ring to it. A billion dollars from New York State dedicated to reviving the Buffalo Niagara economy. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?
The plan – unveiled in late 2012 – was like a bolt of lightning energizing local economic development efforts. The state enlisted local leaders to identify the region’s strengths, and a plan emerged to fund a range of fields, from advanced manufacturing to health and life sciences to tourism. Some companies agreed to move some operations here, and plans were laid to increase training programs.
It was exciting, and local business leaders trumpeted the opportunity. Get onboard now, they intoned, because it may be our last, best chance to revive the economy.
The effort generated plenty of buzz locally, and some chatter across the state, but its impact seemed to fade once outside the state’s borders.
But that changed in June, when lightning struck again.
SolarCity, the nation’s largest solar panel installer, bought Silevo, and Buffalo jumped onto the global green energy stage. Silevo was the solar panel maker planning to move into a factory the state is building on South Park Avenue in Buffalo. Its new owner, SolarCity, is run by Elon Musk, the visionary executive behind Tesla cars and SpaceX, the private space exploration company.
Musk is a global economic rock star, cited as one of those people who actually changes the course of human history. He is building a giga-factory in Nevada that could make it possible for homeowners to afford to store power generated by solar panels or windmills, essentially taking them off the grid and greatly reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.
Now Buffalo is an integral part of this energy revolution.
And work is ongoing to attract a second solar panel maker here.
Simply put, lightning struck twice.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said the real impact of the Buffalo Billion was to change the mindset of Western New York. It was doing that, gradually. But when SolarCity stepped in and expanded the factory five times and boosted overall planned hiring to 2,900, things jumped to another level.
That has a great ring to it, doesn’t it?