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Economic turnaround is changing the face – and the image – of Buffalo

If, in fact, there were an actual prospectus examining the risks and rewards of investing in Buffalo, the prospects today would be bullish, indeed.

That’s the gist of what News reporters found in piecing together this year’s Prospectus supplement. In an in-depth look at the city and regional economy, The News put facts, figures and faces to what just about everyone understands: This is a new day in Buffalo.

It’s not just the big projects that dominate the news. There is more happening besides construction of SolarCity, the expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and, in one of the most important of all the projects underway, the development of Canalside.

Those are among the dominant features of Buffalo’s rebirth, of course, but you don’t have to look hard to find evidence that the city is regenerating itself, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block and, in some cases, house by house.

That’s the story here. In years past, Buffalo had depended upon the silver bullet theory of economic revival. It’s the story of the Adelphia skyscraper and Bass Pro store that never appeared and of untold artists’ renderings that were hidden away on shelves, there to gather dust. It’s different now.

To be sure, the SolarCity project might, in another context, count as silver bullet development. It’s a huge project, one that will give Buffalo the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western hemisphere. It is expected to employ 1,460 people and produce many spinoff jobs in other companies, including suppliers. It’s a big deal.

But Canalside was already changing the face of downtown Buffalo long before SolarCity was even imagined. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was already arising at the northern edge of downtown. Developers were already rehabbing old, sometimes decrepit buildings into the kind of residences that attract both millennials and empty-nesters. SolarCity supports those developments and surely speeds them, but it didn’t create them.

Buffalo’s rebound is no fluke. It’s not the product of a “Hail Mary” pass that puts all of the area’s eggs in a single economic basket. It’s real and ongoing and, from all appearances, durable.

That’s not to say that work doesn’t remain. As business reporter David Robinson observes in today’s Prospectus, the area’s job growth remains a little slower than the national average and wage growth is sluggish. Housing prices are rising slowly – though that fact may also contain at least some long-term benefits. And unemployment among minority residents remains stubbornly high.

Still, this is nothing like the down-and-out Buffalo of decades past. This city, which never surrendered assets like its trove of architectural gems, has become a magnet, drawing home expatriates and attracting people who are seeing the city for the first time. We are becoming, in a word, cool.

To be sure, we had help. It was the work of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who secured money for Canalside from the New York Power Authority, that started Buffalo on its roll. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion lit a fire in the jobs sector. Together, those efforts kicked open the doors of Buffalo’s economic potential.

Without attention and care, it could still stall, but the evidence has suggested that economic development leaders here understand the need to nourish this turnaround. And government has still more work to do, mainly in fixing the Buffalo school system so that the city becomes attractive to families with young children.

But fair enough. A healthy economy must always be a work in progress, and as this year’s Prospectus shows, progress is what powers Buffalo today.