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Small-business support center on Buffalo’s East Side to get funding from ECIDA

A city-run small-business development center that will assist women- and minority-owned businesses is poised to receive $250,000 in funding through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

The agency is expected to approve the funding next month for the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center, an East Side resource center aimed at helping small businesses, especially those run by women or minorities, get started and gain access to resources that they need to grow, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said.

The investment is one of three business initiatives, including a study of the local labor market and the hiring of a consultant to develop business leads in Canada, which the ECIDA is expected to help finance at its March meeting.

The City of Buffalo already has spent $2.3 million to renovate the Gray Center’s building at 332 E. Utica St. The center will include offices and conference rooms at the business-development facility in the heart of the East Side.

The goal of the center is to try to make sure that the economic benefits of the city’s redevelopment boom and overall economic upswing are felt more broadly by residents and workers throughout the city’s neighborhoods, said Rebecca L. Gandour, the city’s director of development. The ECIDA also is expected to contribute $100,000 toward the hiring of Montreal-based CIDEP to help generate business-development leads from Ontario and parts of Quebec.

“There is a fundamental belief that we can grow our economy by tapping into that market,” said Deputy County Executive Maria R. Whyte. “This only works over time. This is the type of thing where you have to plant seeds, nourish them and watch them grow.”

In 2014, the county provided up to $100,000 in funding to hire a different Canadian lead-generation firm, PSD Global, after the state closed its economic-development office in Canada. But even though County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz included funding in the budget to continue the initiative, the money was removed by the County Legislature because of disappointment over the results from PSD’s work, said County Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst. “I think we need to look at this with a somewhat critical eye,” Rath said, noting that he believes that it is more appropriate to fund the lead-generation effort through the ECIDA and the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise than with county taxpayer money.

“It could work. I’m just not convinced, based on past production, that it will succeed.”

The ECIDA also is expected to approve $75,000 in funding for a long-discussed study that looks at the labor market in the Buffalo Niagara region.

The $242,000 study, which will be done by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, will 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 future demand.

“It’s going to focus on the availability of labor. It’s going to focus on the quality of labor. And it’s going to focus on the skills gap,” said Thomas A. Kucharski, president of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

The study already has obtained $146,000 in funding from the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board and National Grid, while the Say Yes Buffalo education initiative has pledged $10,000. With the ECIDA funding, more than 90 percent of the money needed to complete the study will be in place.