Buffalo’s new economy is predicated on innovative technology – from bioinformatics to solar panels – that will help a one-time industrial city reinvent itself.
But there’s no need to wait while reinventing the wheel when it comes to preparing workers in the poorest part of the city to share in that prosperity.
Building a worker training center as part of the new Northland Corridor business park makes sense. But just blocks away on Fillmore Avenue, there already is a training facility with a track record but virtually no public money.
As the Cuomo administration tries to build confidence in its vision for the East Side, and overcome the cynicism of those who’ve watched down-the-road training initiatives become the excuse for keeping them out of jobs that exist now, there’s an easy answer: fund the Outsource Center construction training program.
The center has been tapped by developers like Rocco Termini and Sam Savarino, as well as PUSH Buffalo, because of its record of turning Buffalo’s unemployed into skilled, productive workers. It has won plaudits everywhere except from local government, which has seemed more intent on finding excuses to deny aid than in helping the center help others.
Founder Spencer Gaskin – describing Buffalo politics – recounts the local leaders who have stopped by to see its classes, promise aid, then tell him he hadn’t jumped through enough hoops.
“It’s like an imaginary system working against you. What I mean by that is, you don’t know who your enemies are,” said Gaskin, 75, a contractor who has kept the nonprofit training program afloat with money from his business.
But now the state may see what local officials apparently can’t: the center’s nine-year track record of producing nearly 400 graduates ready to work.
With the guidance of small-business experts at Niagara University and Empire State Development, the center is putting together a business plan and application for $120,000 from state hydropower proceeds that are supposed to spur economic development.
No place needs it more than the Fillmore-Northland area targeted for the state business incubator and training facility. And no place has done more over the past decade than the Outsource Center, which is why County Legislator Betty Jean Grant has been calling for it to be included in the redevelopment plan, to train workers now, not later.
“I have over 200 applications right now on my desk,” said the center’s Lesley White.
They come through word of mouth, to learn not only job skills but how to navigate the cultural transition from East Side streets to traditional job sites – something not all programs can teach. They leave the 10-week class with all the certifications they need plus tools – all of which costs money.
Asked why they are optimistic now, after past false promises, Gaskin and White point to a framed photo of center directors with ESD President Howard Zemsky, the governor’s economic development czar. Zemsky – tipped off by News colleague Donn Esmonde – visited the center a few weeks ago. Now there seems to be a sincere interest in helping it survive, even amid plans to open the larger facility nearby in 2017.
“People need to eat today,” White said.
That means there’s no time to waste reinventing what already exists. Someone in power finally seems to recognize that.