Share this article

print logo

Dazzling array of projects is evidence a 21st century economy is taking shape

For those who still doubt the truth of what is happening in Buffalo, take note of several recent developments as evidence that it’s really happening.

The Buffalo Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub on the Medical Campus got a boost with word that PerkinElmer, a maker of high-tech equipment used in the pharmaceutical industry, is partnering with Albany Molecular Research Inc. in a sweeping drug development project in the new Conventus building. Thursday we learned that Kinex Pharmaceuticals, a client of AMRI, would take up the building’s entire sixth floor.

AMRI has already moved the first few employees into the seventh floor of Conventus. AMRI and its partners promise to eventually create 250 jobs, with the companies investing $200 million. Kinex, a rapidly expanding life sciences company that began in Buffalo, had been considering moving out of the area. Together, the companies will jump-start a new biotech industry downtown.

South of downtown, not only is the sprawling SolarCity plant rising along a bend in the Buffalo River, but its ripple effects are already appearing – in one case to the preliminary tune of $1 million and in another, $130 million.

John W. Danforth Co. is paying $1 million to buy 26.6 acres of land across South Park Avenue from the SolarCity site. There, it plans to build an operations hub for itself but also prepare more than 20 acres for use by other businesses.

Danforth’s business model doesn’t directly intersect with SolarCity’s. The Tonawanda-based mechanical contractor plans a $6 million, 50,000-square-foot plant that will provide for pipe and sheet metal fabrication along with warehouse and office space. It will expand the size of Danforth’s statewide facilities by about 17 percent and add around 50 new jobs to the 375 it already supports in the Buffalo Niagara region.

But two other factors make it especially interesting. One, the purchase is the first major transaction in the area around the SolarCity development, and it’s not a small one. Two, Danforth plans to clean up the brownfield site at 1176 South Park Ave. to make it ready for future development. Those potential companies would almost certainly include prime suppliers to SolarCity, soon to be the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western hemisphere.

It’s a foundational development in this still-new industry, and it’s not the only one. Hamburg-based Gibraltar Industries has agreed to buy a Cincinnati-based company that manufactures systems for mounting solar panels on roofs. The deal, worth $130 million, capitalizes on Buffalo’s move into the solar energy field.

Company leaders describe the decision as a step toward the goal of transforming the construction products maker into a faster-growing and more profitable business. In buying RBI Solar, Gibraltar is acquiring a company with 300 employees and that gets about two-thirds of its $164 million in annual revenues from its solar racking systems.

Are solar and medical innovation to 21st century Buffalo what steel was in the 20th century? Not yet, but we are moving in that direction – and doing so in a way that could protect it from the forces that broke that once-thriving industry.

The medical hub in the Conventus building draws on the model of the hugely successful NanoTech complex in Albany. Part of the RiverBend project includes a research and development division that would operate here and in Albany. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, SolarCity acknowledged its need to “continually improve the efficiency and power output of our solar panels and reduce the cost of production” or risk becoming less competitive. That’s good news for Buffalo.

To borrow a metaphor from another prominent Western New York industry, the pistons are really starting to fire in the Buffalo Billion program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s ambitious commitment to restart the Buffalo economy. This is happening. There could yet be setbacks, but when private enterprise puts up millions of dollars to get in the game, it’s fair to conclude that something real is in the works.