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Invest Buffalo Niagara brings word of Buffalo’s comeback to D.C.

WASHINGTON – The head of Invest Buffalo Niagara came to an international investment summit here Monday not only in the hope of bringing home jobs, but also to spread some wisdom about what Buffalo has done right.

Thomas Kucharski, the president and CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, was the only local economic official chosen to speak at this year’s two-day SelectUSA Investment Summit, the Obama administration’s annual attempt to lure foreign investors to the United States.

Invest Buffalo Niagara has done just that, luring 49 Canadian companies to start operations in the region since 2010, resulting in the creation of 1,404 jobs. The group has also lured nine companies from other countries to come to Buffalo, creating another 768 jobs.

“The numbers bear out that this has been a positive initiative,” Kucharski said.

As a result of that success, Kucharski was invited to speak on a panel Tuesday morning on the boring, but important, subject of visas for foreign managers and other details of how economic developers can help companies that decide to locate operations in the U.S.

On Monday, though, Kucharski spent his day doing what he’s done for 16 years now: selling the region to companies that may be interested in locating an operation there.

“We sell our strengths,” Kucharski said. “We make it clear that if we are given an opportunity, we think we can put together a package that works.”

The SelectUSA Investment Summit has its roots in the early years of the Obama administration, when Kucharski and 30 other economic developers went to a White House meeting in which officials were seeking ideas for boosting direct foreign investment.

The result was an annual trade show that tries to pair local and state economic development officials with businesses from around the world.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul held court at the “New York State of Opportunity” booth at the trade show Monday, touting the Buffalo region to foreign companies interested in solar energy and Rochester to firms interested in photonics and so on.

She also spoke at an invitation-only discussion of infrastructure issues with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

President Obama said Monday that the SelectUSA initiative has led to more than $10 billion in foreign investment in the United States.

That, of course, runs counter to the tone of the 2016 presidential campaign, in which likely Republican nominee Donald Trump argues that the U.S. is “losing” the foreign trade wars and that it should consider tariffs on foreign products to bring more balance to foreign trade.

Foreign participants in the event didn’t seem to take Trump’s economic nationalism too seriously, said Douglas W. Dimitroff, vice chairman of Invest Buffalo Niagara.

“I didn’t hear anyone say the U.S. isn’t the place to be” for international investors, he said.