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Labor study gets funding boost from Power Authority board

With the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development program promising thousands of new jobs and an aging factory work force heralding hundreds of new job openings in the coming years, local development officials are preparing to take a closer look at the trends that will shape the Buffalo Niagara region’s employment market in the years to come.

The Buffalo Niagara Enterprise business development and marketing group is planning to update a labor market study it completed five years ago to address the latest shifts in the region’s job market.

The study, expected to cost $242,000, got a major boost on Monday when the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board agreed to recommend that more than a quarter of the report’s costs be funded from a pool of money created by the sale of available hydropower from the Niagara Power Project.

The $65,836 allocation, if approved by the New York Power Authority board of trustees, would provide 27 percent of the funding needed to conduct the study, with $120,000 expected to come from National Grid another $28,000 earmarked from Buffalo Building Trades.

The study is expected to identify the strengths and marketable skills of the local labor force, while also examining how shifts in the region’s job market are expected to affect the demand for labor and single out skills that are expected to be in greater demand in the coming years.

The study is expected to provide short-term and long-term job projections by industry, while also looking at how many graduates the region’s high schools and universities will produce to potentially fill those vacant positions. The study also plans to look at potential gaps between the demand for labor and the supply of potential workers and examine the typical career pathways for seven of the area’s targeted industries.

The study’s findings will help local workforce development agencies determine what types of training will be needed to fill the job openings that are expected in the next few years, agency officials said.

The board also recommended that Cambria Asphalt Products receive $72,750 in funding for a $606,000 project that will allow the manufacturer of hot mix asphalt products to switch its main fuel source to natural gas.

The company currently uses waste oil as a heating fuel to dry the stone aggregate it uses in its asphalt products. Switching to natural gas, which will involve building a $531,000 pipeline to the company’s Lockport Junction Road facility, will allow the company to lower its fuel costs and switch to an energy source that much more readily available than waste oil, which can be subject to supply shortages. The switch also will reduce the plant’s harmful emissions.

The project is expected to create one job, paying about $42,500 a year, and help retain six others at Cambria Asphalt and its affiliate company, Shelby Stone Trucking.

Board member Dennis Elsenbeck opposed the funding for the project, expressing concern that the incentives would aid Cambria Asphalt at the expense of its competitors.

“I’m not sure how, marginally, this creates new wealth for the community if we’re not creating new markets,” he said.

The Power Authority funding comes from money generated by the sale of 85 megawatts of unused hydropower from the Niagara Power Project and set aside for economic-development projects in the region.

The fund currently has $15.3 million available for economic-development projects. The fund has awarded $24.8 million to economic-development projects within 30 miles of the Niagara Power Project since the program began in 2010.