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Editorial: Promise of 1,500 new jobs emphasizes the need for job training

There’s a new player coming to Erie County’s economic landscape, one that will put some 1,500 people to work and that simultaneously underscores the need for the new workforce development project undertaken and led by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Strategic Financial Solutions, a debt consolidation company, will open an office on Lawrence Bell Drive in Amherst later this year, but will open in temporary space next month. The company expects to hire 150 people in its first year, and to reach 1,500 jobs within five years. If it meets that goal, it will qualify for $10 million in state tax credits.

The project creates an employment splash reminiscent of the one made by GEICO when it came here. In fact, the new company is coming here for reasons similar to those cited by GEICO which, like The Buffalo News, is a division of Berkshire Hathaway.

Ryan Sasson, the founder and CEO of Strategic Financial Solutions, sought an available and low-cost workforce in expanding out of the company’s New York City headquarters. Western New York has that. It also has the other attributes Sasson wanted, including several nearby universities and a population of millennials. Starting salaries will be in the mid-$30,000 range, though sales jobs and some management positions could pay $70,000 to $80,000, Sasson said.

Together, those qualities made Western New York stand out and helped convince Sasson to expand here. In that decision, he was encouraged by two Western New York entrepreneurs, Z80 Labs co-founders Jordan Levy and Ronald Schreiber, who invested in Strategic Financial Solutions several years ago.

Strategic Financial Solutions helps consumers get out of debt by negotiating settlements with their creditors, typically at a rate of around 45 cents on the dollar. Those clients have frequently fallen into significant debt after a crisis such as divorce, illness or job loss. With the company’s help, Sasson said, clients typically become debt-free in about 3½ years, a tiny fraction of the 30 to 50 years it would take by making minimum payments.

Those creditors might not appreciate forgoing the other 55 percent of debt they are owed, but those who think about it understand that it’s a better deal – for everyone – than bankruptcy.

While the company sees a healthy job market here, the region’s economic revival will depend to a great extent on ensuring that job applicants have the skills necessary at least to get in the door, at which point many companies will be willing to train them. That’s the goal of Employ Buffalo Niagara, described as “a coalition of coalitions” aimed at overcoming problems such as Buffalo’s population of poor and working poor, estimated at an unnerving 60 percent of the city’s population.

Unless those people are able to move into the workforce or into better-paying jobs, the region’s expansion will be stymied, as companies are left to pilfer employees from one another. That’s a no-growth game.

Consider: According to statistics provided by Employ Buffalo Niagara, the area includes 132,100 underemployed workers – plus more who are working poor or jobless – and another 137,000 who are nearing retirement. That’s an alarm bell clanging.

The idea to investigate a broad-based workforce development coalition was the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s, which now leads the effort. Its goal is to overcome shortages of qualified job candidates by creating an inclusive workforce development system that is aligned with employers’ needs. In that, it will need the cooperation of businesses, schools and colleges and government.

These are positive developments. The decision by Strategic Financial Services to come to Western New York underscores the area’s desirability and the continuing strength of its economic revival. The work of Employ Buffalo Niagara, meanwhile, aims at making sure the area is prepared for future opportunities that might otherwise pass it by. After years of stagnation and decline, Western New York has momentum. This effort will help to ensure that doesn’t flag.

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