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IBM tech center on growth track

IBM’s technology center in downtown Buffalo is on track to have 50 employees by year’s end, and is aiming to hit its target of 500 total jobs in less than the seven years initially projected.

State and local officials joined IBM representatives on Friday at KeyCenter to celebrate the first phase of the IBM Innovation Technology Center. The project is an initiative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion.

The Buffalo center has 11 employees now, a number expected to double within a couple of weeks, said Jay Goodwyn, executive director of the IBM Buffalo Innovation Center.

IBM is using temporary space in KeyCenter’s North Tower, but the project will take a big step forward after Delaware North Cos. exits the South Tower for a new location on Delaware Avenue. Delaware North is expected to move this fall; IBM then plans to outfit space in the South Tower to suit its needs, and hopes to move in either February or March.

IBM will use seven floors in the South Tower, including one for its data center, which is already set up. “As our projects build, we’ll build up the data center,” Goodwyn said.

IBM will hire at a rate of about 70 jobs per year on its way to the 500 mark. “A lot will depend on opportunities,” Goodwyn said. “We’re hoping we can get to 500 before seven years.” IBM set September 2020 as the target for full employment when it announced the center.

The center will bring together a variety of computing capabilities at the site to allow clients to tap into them on an “as-needed” basis to solve problems and complete projects. The center will offer expertise in subjects such as banking, health care and energy, and offers capabilities such as data modeling, data management, data center monitoring and analytics.

IBM will hire people with skills in areas like software development, analytics, big data, cloud computing and mobile computing. “We’re not building products for IBM,” Goodwyn said. “We’re using our products to build solutions for clients. So that’s the goal.”

Michael Cadigan, general manager of IBM’s microelectronics systems and technology group, noted that it was just over a year ago that IBM announced its Buffalo project. “I can tell you IBM is fully committed to what we’re going to see occur here in Buffalo.”

Cadigan predicted the IBM center would spawn growth, the way a nanotechnology center did in Albany. “That hub creates a series of spokes. Those spokes attract other companies – startups, other enterprises. We have a tremendous opportunity, and we will see that model mirrored here in Buffalo.”

Robert J. Kirk, infrastructure architect for the IBM Buffalo Innovation Center, said the facility is designed to serve customers in Buffalo and beyond. “We want to hire local and have global customers,” he said.

Goodwyn said IBM recently attended a career festival at the University at Buffalo and found the talent level to be “phenomenal.” “I’d hate to see them leave, so we want to keep them here,” he said.

New York State is pouring $55 million into establishing the technology center, including $15 million to purchase a portion of KeyCenter. About $10 million will be spent outfitting the building for IBM.

“The private-sector jobs that IBM is bringing is really what it’s all about,” said Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development. “The role of government isn’t to create all the jobs, it’s to induce the private sector to take a risk and make an investment.”

Zemsky reflected on the impact of Buffalo Billion initiatives and what he hears in his travels in his new job: “Buffalo has become the envy of the rest of the state.”