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Where Buffalo’s millennials work

Millennials are finding a haven in Buffalo. For them, this cold, snowy place on the lake can be welcoming, affordable and full of opportunity. Young people in their 20s and 30s who are at the beginning of their careers say dream jobs materialized after they set their sights here. ¶ A manufacturing engineer, who continued an internship by designing his college schedule to fit, landed a job and went on to design a machine his company now manufactures. ¶ A graphic designer who moved here with her fiancé found a way to freelance from home with steady work from a Virginia company. ¶ A journalism major who quit one job to take a chance on finding something better got two radio offers at the same time. She took both. Each of the six people here took a different path. But they all have found a place in Western New York.

Katherine Spitler, 26

Graphic designer and art director

When Spitler and the Buffalo native who would eventually become her husband decided to stop their long distance romance and live in the same place, Buffalo beckoned. Spitler was game, but she found nothing at local ad agencies. An old friend and designer said his Virginia-based public relations firm was hiring people to work remotely. Spitler launched this phase of her career from her Elmwood Village living room.

Her designs for clients of Jaymie Scotto & Associates include email invitations and signs for events at trade shows. For one in Honolulu this month, she promoted a fiber optic cable company’s party at an aquarium. She adjusted the colors of photos of its beach locale to better match its blue-green brand. When she sent it off for the client to review, she got a swift congratulatory email. “It made me feel great,” she said. “Hitting the nail on the head very early in process is very satisfying.”

Eric Edwards, 27

Manufacturing engineer

During his studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, Edwards knew he wanted a career near home in Langford, a hamlet of North Collins. Toolmaker Koike Aronson, about 40 minutes away in Arcade, was a natural fit. Growing up, Edwards always liked Legos and figuring out how to put stuff together.

After an internship at Koike ended, he asked if he could keep working part time, keeping his college schedule open so he could work two days a week. Then, during the recession when most companies were laying off, Edwards got a job.

One assignment to design an entry-level cutting machine for makers of rail cars and trailers led to a new machine that sells for $100,000 and $200,000. Last year, Koike sold 36.

“I love my job. It’s great,” Edwards said. “How something worked – that always interested me.”

Derrick Parson, 34

Entrepreneur, developer of online courses

Parson moved to Buffalo from Brooklyn to go to the University at Buffalo. By the time he finished his bachelor’s degree in African-American studies, his part-time work selling computers at Best Buy included taking online classes.

Curious about the form, he earned a master’s in educational technology and then put together classes in medical billing, business and criminal justice for Bryant & Stratton College. Five months ago, he pitched his idea for “The Appletree Agency,” a company of his own that develops classes for other businesses.

He won a scholarship place at the new d!g co-work space on the downtown Medical Campus. As he launches his business, he is surrounded by other young entrepreneurs with extra support, like three years of server space, worth $15,000.

“I love it. I’ve been allotted a wealth of resources for free,” he said. “It’s a field that’s needed.”

Porsha “Ari” Coaxum, 26

Radio account executive and news program host

Coaxum moved from Rochester to major in journalism at SUNY Buffalo State and live closer to her late father’s family.

An internship led to a job at WUFO and an interview segment she enjoyed putting together. When it was canceled, she took a chance and quit to hunt for other options while paying the rent by working at Macy’s.

Last May, just as she started selling ads for WBLK, WBFO offered her a job as a weekend announcer.

“I was just like, ‘I’m taking both of these babies and I’m going to make it work,’ ” she said. “I don’t care that I’m working seven days a week because I’m trying to get somewhere. Hopefully, I won’t always work seven days a week, but right now I can’t say I feel it … I’m definitely on the right path. I’m happy. I actually like going to work.”

Tom Grant, 29

Staff scientist, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute

While he was earning his bachelor’s degree in mathematical physics at the University at Buffalo, his mother toured Hauptman-Woodward’s building with the high school class she taught and found that they wanted more mathematicians and physicists to apply to the UB graduate program in structural biology, which they host.

The Clarence native got in and spent six years earning his doctorate. Last year, he was hired when Hauptman-Woodward became one of eight institutions sharing a $25 million National Science Foundation grant to use the XFEL, a high-speed, California-based X-ray to photograph protein.

Shutter speeds of a millionth of a millionth of a second capture the delicate crystals before light damages them. Grant analyzes the photos of the iridescent cubes to better understand their structure. Researchers believe this can lead to effective new drugs.

“A drug is essentially a small molecule. Protein is a big molecule … The protein is the lock, the drug is the key,” Grant said. “I get to do a lot of fun things. I travel to California a lot. Just to work with the brightest X-ray laser in the world is very cool. Knowing how all of these proteins work, being the first to see this information and discover it is very exciting.”

Matt Nagowski, 31

Quantitative modeling manager in M&T Bank’s treasury department

Nagowski, an Orchard Park native, didn’t think about moving home for his career until he got a job working for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.

The big city famous for its universities and high culture didn’t have the friendliness of home, the accessibility of local arts happenings and easy access to wilderness kayaking. Nagowski, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at Cornell University, aimed for Buffalo by applying online to all local banks.

His first M&T job, analyzing risks and assets to help calculate how much money the bank could safely lend, led to his current position managing a young staff of 12 analysts. He also teaches statistics and data modeling at SUNY Buffalo State in a new program intended to develop more local talent.

“We try to build models to try to understand how customers behave,” Nagowski said. “What Buffalo may not have in terms of all of Boston’s cultural resources and institutional power … it kind of makes up for in terms of its accessibility, its ease of really being able to actualize your life and what you want to do.”